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Author Topic: Hidden cost of proprietary software.  (Read 1493 times)
nightflier
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Vectorian
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« on: September 11, 2007, 01:02:10 pm »

- Another run-in with activation and copy protection.

My job was to rejuvenate a two or three year old HP Desktop machine with Windows XP on it. It was suffering from the usual maladies: instability and poor performance.

Some quick testing with LiveCD Linux verified that the hardware was working fine. In these instances, the simplest thing is to re-install windows from scratch. Problem was that this box was used for business. It had proprietary accounting software installed and the original install media and product keys were lost. Only some install floppies from an earlier version, with codes and numbers scribbled on them, were available. No one knew if it was a clean install, or an upgrade from the earlier version.

In these cases I normally do a "repair" installation, because it preserves current settings. Being paranoid, I first clone the hard disk and work on the copy instead of the original.

On this HP there is a partition with restore info (consuming a quarter of the hard disk). Launching the process gives you three choices: Destructive re-install, which deletes and re-creates the windows partition. Non-destructive, which re-installs windows and resets everything to zero, but does not delete your documents and files. Last option is to reboot to windows and do a system restore. Neither will do what I want. Creating "rescue disks" only lets you do the same operations from the optical drive instead of the hard drive. There is no proper windows install disk included. I try a stand-alone version. It will not install using the XP key provided with the computer.

On other systems I have found workarounds by either creating a boot disk using files from the i386 folder or doing a hard drive install using DOS. Does not work on this one, it seems hard wired to use the HP install routine that loads the machine up with adware, trials and software for every imaginable HP periperal.

I can not find a way to do a non-destructive windows repair install. Reinstalling the accounting software will mean buying an additional copy.

I opt to do a restore, then remove all the unwanted clutter and re-install the needed programs. It takes a while, but soon the thing is up and running, fast and stable.

Then I do something stupid. I connect the original hard drive and go to copy files over to the new one. It triggers WGA. The machine grinds to a halt and won't boot up again. I am unable to rescue the installation. Oh, the frustration!

-----------------------------------

If the software on this machine had been all FLOSS, I could have just downloaded what I needed, installed it and imported the data into the new setup.

How many of us have lost track of original install media and/or installation codes? If an app is upgraded, you may need the whole chain of media/keys before getting the latest version restored. How many small businesses where people rotate through have total control over all this junk?

I doubt that the TCO studies performed take into account the cost of tracking and maintaining licensing and install media.

It has been my experience that computers are not 100% reliable and often need repair or replacement. It is important that your working setup is quickly and easily re-created. This is not easily done when programs assume that you are a pirate and need complex procedures to prove your innocence. Restricting your install/restore/repair options does not help either. Furthermore, when a program continuously spy on you and disable your computer if it suspects you did something not permitted in the EULA, you end up with even more expense, lost time and frustration.

The time I have spent learning to use free software has paid off handsomely for me personally. Guess it is much harder in a business setting where the cost of the initial investment outweighs long-term savings and flexibility.
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The Headacher
Louder than you
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« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2007, 12:17:23 am »

Quote
It had proprietary accounting software installed and the original install media and product keys were lost. Only some install floppies from an earlier version, with codes and numbers scribbled on them, were available. No one knew if it was a clean install, or an upgrade from the earlier version.
That company should be ashamed of itself. Every company should store it's software and keys at a central place. Computers break down, either hardware or software will inevitably fail. Everybody who works with computers should know this, and keep this in mind when working. If you make money using proprietary software, you should take very good care of that softwares install media, and anything that comes with it.

Quote
I connect the original hard drive and go to copy files over to the new one. It triggers WGA. The machine grinds to a halt and won't boot up again. I am unable to rescue the installation. Oh, the frustration!
yeah, windows genuine advantage... question is: "who gets the advantage?" . I'm pretty sure it isn't the user.

Quote
If the software on this machine had been all FLOSS, I could have just downloaded what I needed, installed it and imported the data into the new setup.
I very much doubt it. I don't see how you can make software out of floss to start with Grin.

Quote
How many of us have lost track of original install media and/or installation codes?
Not me, I keep them neatly organized in one of them cd / dvd folders. I can recommend them. They cost hardly anything ($ 10 or something), and some store over 400 cd's.

Quote
It has been my experience that computers are not 100% reliable and often need repair or replacement. It is important that your working setup is quickly and easily re-created.
Agreed. This is one of the parts where linux excels IMO. All you need to do is get the packages and reinstall them. Except of course when people mess up the repo... Undecided
Quote
This is not easily done when programs assume that you are a pirate and need complex procedures to prove your innocence. Restricting your install/restore/repair options does not help either. Furthermore, when a program continuously spy on you and disable your computer if it suspects you did something not permitted in the EULA, you end up with even more expense, lost time and frustration.
But then again, most of these things where probably in the EULA, and then agreed to by the customer. The programs manufacturer may be satan himself, but in the end there's a person that puts the software on the computer.
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GrannyGeek
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« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2007, 08:11:38 pm »

I agree with The Headacher that the company brought this on itself. There is no excuse for losing installation disks and product keys. I have installation media going back 15 years, as well as patches and updates for all the software.

Also, when you don't have a retail copy of the OS installation disk, you are well advised to make an image of the hard drive as soon as you've finished installing the OS and the important software. Then if you have some disaster, you can restore the image and save lots of time, to say nothing about avoiding a crisis due to not having installation media. If your business depends on certain software, you MUST learn how to protect the computer aspects of your business.

While I agree that FLOSS makes things much easier and that having to go through activations can be a pain and even hazardous, if someone opts for proprietary operating systems and programs, they have to be prepared for things like reinstallations. Also, I understand why companies want things like activation and anti-piracy measures. The fact is, there is a lot of software piracy going on by ordinary users. If a company makes money by selling software, I don't blame it for trying to prevent illegal uses.
--GrannyGeek
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larkl
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Posts: 30


« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2007, 02:19:00 pm »

Been there a few times, mostly middle of the night or weekend.  Can't find the media "Maybe it's in the drawer where the PC used to be at".  Maybe not.  Finally started locked all the media up in my office 10 years ago.  Now it goes into a safe.  Takes 2 minutes when the new PC or software arrives.  I'm the sole tech savvy user in a 24/7 manufacturing plant support group.   With the original media and routine data backups, we're good to go unless the place goes up in smoke. 
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Will
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2007, 03:03:33 pm »

Scenerio happened a few years back when I used win98. Mind you 'my' computer was used by the entire family and as my stepdad's workstation at home. When windows borked first thing i did was load knoppix to see what was up, everythig nwas fine except that windows wouldn't boot(through digging I found out my little sister had deleted the registry). Now being as ti was my computer i partitioned off an unused section of the harddrive off and moved the work stuff there till  icould find a fix. We turned the hosue upside down looking for the actual windows install. Oh I had the product key, but without media(or a copy since thiswas just before bit torrent) I was kinda at a loss as to what to do other than install linux. Oh open office recognized everything fine but the family wasn't having anything to do with the 'goofy mess' I'd put on the computer.


Long and short, thanks to piracy and a backup of my product key(off the slip case the thing was in) I'd managed to make everybody happy but myself. I don't like the idea of having to look on the itnernet for backups to software as, legalities aside, it measn youv'e been carless about your install media.


If I can't find my indexed folder of CD's when i get my computer back I'm going to be HIGHLY upset.
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nightflier
Administrator
Vectorian
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Posts: 3941



« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2007, 11:51:24 am »

Granted, someone were negligent in failing to prepare for a future restore procedure. I don't think this is atypical. Planning and preparing for the future does not usually show a return in the first fiscal period.

Ever since one of my kids brought home a floppy with the Monkey-B virus, I have kept backups. I remember sitting through over 60 floppy changes to back up my DOS drive. A 1.6 GB TR-3 tape drive was a huge improvement, but still slow and cumbersome. Recordable optical discs were another improvement. I would image my Windows setup in stages from just OS to all apps installed. Still, manual backups were a pain. Network servers doing the job automatically on a schedule is where I am at now.

More importantly, I have done many restore operations, to verify that backups actually work. I have found that this is an oft-neglected step. One company had automatic tape backup with rotation off the premises. When I checked the logs, every backup on record showed up as failed. They thought they were protected when they were not, and no one had the computer skills to monitor and maintain their setup.

Like Granny, I too have kept stacks of old media and documentation. Now that I think about it, it is probably time to throw out the 5 1/4 inch floppies, as I don't have any drives to read them any more. What has disappeared or gotten destroyed in our family is gaming disks. Since they are designed not to be copied, and you need them in the drive to run the games, they get a lot of use and abuse.



As far as the EULA's go, I have tried to read and understand many of them. Honestly! But it is written in a language that I have a hard time understanding. As when trying to figure out how Windows Server 2003 licensing worked, I found Windows XP pro was permitted to access terminal services without buying additional licensing, but only if you already owned that copy before the release date of Server 2003. That is not clear in the XP EULA. Then there is the interpretation of what they are saying. Like: "You may install, use, access, display and run one copy of the Software on a single computer". Does that make access through VNC illegal? Very good legal knowledge and record keeping is needed to keep up with all this.

So I admit that I do not have a full understanding of all the laws that apply to me. I also admit that at times I may be in breach of some, as when I am keeping up with traffic that is going over the speed limit. I recognize that by cloning the drive I violated the EULA. However, I think that to disable the computer was an unreasonable response.

With Vista auditing the computer 30 times every second, I suspect that my experiments would quickly get me in trouble should I ever decide to use it.
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