Do they have to make it so darn hard to install?
Anyone who has recently bought a new computer and had to go through the arduous task of reloading all their software knows exactly what I am talking about. I recently purchased a MacBook onto which I installed Windows so that I could teach to a broader audience. The arrival of the MacBook and the subsequent loading of software caused me to reflect on the many problems of the software manufacturer’s product keys: That 10 to 643 digit alpha-numeric, complete with slashes, dots and other character keys, unlocks the power of your software or holds you hostage.
First of all, if you haven’t been careful over the years and stored your product keys with your installation disk you are in trouble. A search will be in order to locate those too-small cards in those too-big boxes. I make it easy on myself. I paste a label on the CD Case and write the number down there. As many times as I change computers and as many times as I upgrade OS’s I have to have them handy. Some software has been around through 4 or 5 computer changes.
Programs downloaded without physical media as backup mean that, likely, your key is on an old email somewhere. Print them out and save them. As you go hunting for the various packages you’ve downloaded, and get the latest version, you are going to need that key.
Here are some of the problems I find once I have located the product key.
Product keys have too many digits. I just installed over 50 software packages on my new MacBook. The average software key is about 20 digits long. That is a thousand key strokes where I have to read and type-without benefit of a 10-Key pad.
I never know whether the letters have to be in upper or lower case. Sometimes it is obvious as the product key will have both. Other times, you don’t know if you need to hit that Caps Lock. It would be easier if there was a standard.
Some product keys are separated into sections delineated by spaces and dashes. Some product key entry screens are also delineated or will fill in the dash for you as you type. This can be frustrating as double-dashes result and you get to the end of typing your key and you find that you are one letter short all because of a ‘supplied’ dash. My favorites are the key-entry screens that are separated into separate boxes but when you get to the end they don’t jump on their own. Again, there needs to be a standard.
What is it with the tiny type? Is software piracy going to run rampant because I can actually read my key? Are people looking over my shoulder to read my software key? Honestly, 6-8pt type is a no-no. There is no reason a product key cannot be at least 12-14pt type. If I have to have my reading glasses and a magnifying glass in bright light to read your key, you are not making this a user-friendly experience.
Speaking of magnifying glasses, I think that you should make your B’s look less like 8’s (Microsoft, I am talking to you here). I hate-absolutely loath-going back through a product key when I am told, “Sorry-Invalid Key” looking for letters that look like numbers, other letters, weird symbols, or vice versa. Zeros and O’s… Don’t get me started on those.
Some programs like to trick you. They don’t ask for a key until later. They like to strand you in front of a room full of people or when you are up against a deadline by waiting until you launch the program the first time to ask for the key. Or-even worse-they don’t ask for the key until the 15, 30, or however many day period has expired. Now you are far from home and the software key is in a box somewhere and you are screwed.
Even more sadistic programs make you go back, months later, and find the software key because you have downloaded an update and installed it over the top of a legitimately installed program. (Colorvision, this has your name all over it.) If I’ve installed a previous upgradable version, I shouldn’t have to gut my junk room because you’ve issued an update.
I saved Adobe for last because the Photoshop process aggravates me so much. Installing Design Suite Premium CS3 it asks me for a product key. Then it says this is an upgrade but it doesn’t want to see the old disk as so many programs do. No, it wants the old product key. Now I am entering 40 numbers instead of 20. Then it wants to activate-but you only get two shots. The EULA specifically says you can have two computers active, and stipulates the terms.
Here’s the problem. I had a faulty touchpad on my HP laptop. I sent it in for repair and HP, for no particular reason, wiped the hard drive for me. Thank you very much HP. (Part of the reason for the MacBook purchase, but I digress) I didn’t get the opportunity to deactivate my CS3 because the computer was out of my hands. No problem, chat with Adobe, and the tech tells me to give him my product key. Then I had to generate a key with the ‘over the phone activation’ whereby a key was generated at Adobe for the activation of my software. Count em, boys and girls, that was an 80 digit time-sensitive sequence of tiny numbers to get a program working. It took an extra 15 minutes too. I am grateful for the process just frustrated with it’s difficulty.
I know piracy is a problem but really, help us out a little bit here. We purchased the software honestly so we should have the easiest time installing it.
- Print in large enough type to read.
- Don’t use a font that makes certain characters look like other characters.
- Make your key-entry form obvious as to Case, Characters, Field length, etc.
- Tell us during install when the key will be needed so we don’t find ourselves scrambling days or weeks later.
- Activation is a nice feature for people who are try-and-buyers. I am not. Don’t force me to go through the process.
- A ten-digit key is as good as a twenty-digit key. Anyone can copy any distribute any key. Don’t punish your paying customers by making our installation overly difficult.
- Standardize where the key is in the package of papers. On the box, inside the front cover, on the CD, just pick one and stay consistent.
Remember good customer service and a fine user experience is the key to your activation of our wallets.
Rikk Flohr © 2009