Dongles considered harmful

Helping to search for a missing copy-protection dongle (for embroidery software) reminds me just how awful that kind of copy-protection is.

I can understand why software publishers are tempted to use it, especially for niche market titles that command relatively high prices. The arithmetic might even work out in the publisher’s favor for hardcore engineering software used almost exclusively by corporate minions on big-budget projects. I imagine that some of the users of the embroidery software are commercial users doing embroidery for customers, and those users pretty much have to pay whatever the publisher demands. The commercial-grade embroidery machines certainly aren’t cheap; the software doesn’t materially alter the capital budget even when it’s grossly overpriced.

But there are also prosumer embroidery machines aimed at advanced hobbyists. Those machines aren’t exactly cheap either, but the price of the software really does drive the cost way up. Probably with the software so expensive, and hobbyists using it “just for fun”, there would be some who would use the software without paying, and some of those wouldn’t be technical enough to circumvent the dongle copy protection. The license fees these customers pay are the upside of copy protection for the publisher.

The downside, of course, is that all the other customers are treated like thieves. They are inconvenienced every time they run the software, for the sole benefit of the software publisher to whom they have already paid a wad of money. When the dongle goes walkabout, as it inevitably does at the worst possible time, they are prevented from doing any work until the dongle can be located or replaced. It sure doesn’t help the customer feel affection for the software or its publisher. Word of mouth suffers. Bad dongle experiences (not to mention high prices) poison the potential community of users. Great software that could have been a runaway favorite ends up feeling like a necessary evil.

Ugh. So far, we still haven’t found the dongle, so we may get a chance to find out how well the publisher and its local dealer are at customer support.

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