With the release of Creative Suite 2 (CS2) on Monday, Adobe Systems will also introduce activation for the Mac version of the CS2 product line. Activation is a process the customer must complete sometime during the first 30 days of use in order to verify that the product is using a valid serial number. Adobe says it is not changing the way it does business, rather enforcing the terms of the license agreement, which says the product can be installed on only two machines.

Casual copying

While Adobe feels activation will help its anti-piracy efforts, the company is realistic on the effect it will have on the overall piracy plague.

"This is just one component of our anti-piracy strategy," said Drew McManus, Adobe's director of worldwide anti-piracy. "We don't see activation as the be-all, end-all that's going to fix our piracy problem. It's a very specific tool that we use to combat a very specific type of piracy, which we refer to as 'casual copying.'"

Casual copiers include people that purchase a piece of software and give it to their friends or a graphics shop that purchases one copy and installs it on all of the machines in the office. It also includes someone selling a computer "loaded with software." While these casual copiers may not sound important when looking at the big piracy picture, Adobe says it's a huge problem.

"This is likely one of the largest forms of piracy out there," said McManus. It [activation] is a simple barrier to ensure people stay within the terms of the license agreement."

The honest customer

Most people don't consider themselves software pirates; some may even read the license agreement and understand that there are limitations they agree to abide by when installing software. The majority of users, however, install the software they need on the machines they need it on without giving the license agreement a second thought. In developing their activation policies, Adobe said the honest customers had to come first.

"One of the mantras we had in developing our activation scheme was 'put the honest customer first,' said McManus. "We didn't want to burden the honest customer to help us prevent the pirate. It's essentially one more step in the installation and ensures the customer has a valid license to complete that install."

McManus said his team tried to think of every possible situation that a customer would be in without their validated computer and need to use Creative Suite 2. Examples included having a computer stolen at an airport to having it smashed or run over by a speeding taxi cab.

Whatever the situation, McManus and the anti-piracy team are confident that enough support systems are in place to handle almost anything customers can throw their way. If a computer is lost or stolen, CS2 has a built-in 30 day grace period, so the user can continue working on another system.

"We don't ever want to put a brick wall in front of our customers getting their work done," said McManus.

Activating and deactivating

Activating CS2 – or any of the individual products included in the suite – is not optional. It's not like those "register now" dialog boxes that you can make go away forever with a click. If you don't activate within the allotted 30 day grace period, the products will not work.

"It's important to note that this is not a change in the way we do business – the overall terms of our license are the same as they always have been," said McManus. "We are just using activation to authenticate that those terms are being adhered to."

Adobe has always required that a serial number be entered when one of their products is installed – activation has added one step to that process. The activation dialog box clearly explains what is happening and also has a link to the License Agreement and to Adobe's Web site where you can get more information on their activation policies.

If you are within your limit of two computers for the license, clicking "Activate" will contact the Adobe servers and verify your serial number. The entire process took about 10-15 seconds to complete.

Of course, activating over the Internet is not the only option that Adobe is giving its customers. Telephone numbers have been setup in 18 languages in over 65 countries to handle customer activations, according to Mihir Nanavati, Adobe's senior product manager for licensing and anti-piracy.

Calling one of the telephone numbers offers the customer two options: an automated system where you enter the information using a touch-tone phone and the ability to speak with a customer service representative.

Activation is only required once – all products are validated at the same time.

If you get a new computer or want to use CS2 on another system, Adobe has implemented a way to deactivate your machine. In the Help menu, clicking on Transfer Activation will take you through the necessary steps – once done CS2 will no longer work on that machine, but you can activate another.

Privacy: what information gets sent to Adobe?

Internet users are becoming more sensitive about sending personal information over the Web. Adobe said users have no need to worry about what is sent to them during the activation process.

"There is a lot of concern about privacy these days," said McManus. "This is a completely anonymous process – we don't learn anything about you, your machine, your configuration, the software you have installed or how you use it. Basically what we get is your serial number and a unique ID for the machine that's effectively a random number."

I bought it, it's my software!

Many software users believe that since they paid a company's asking price for a piece of software, they own it and can do with it as they wish. Unlike other products you can buy, there are limitations on software that developers expect you to adhere to.

"Unfortunately, that's not the way it works," said McManus. "People tend to think of software as something you buy, but the fact of the matter is what you are doing when you buy a piece of software is you're being licensed to use it under certain conditions. For Adobe, none of that has changed, we are just making sure you are actually doing what you agreed to do."

Activation has become popular with several Mac developers in the past couple of years, a trend Adobe says will continue to grow and change.

"I suspect you'll see more and more of this," said McManus. "I don't think it will be around forever as we continue to innovate and find better ways to do it."

Taking care of business

According to numbers from the Business Software Alliance, an organization that represents commercial software companies and educates consumers on software management and copyright protection, approximately $29 billion a year is lost to software piracy, said McManus.

While effective in curbing many forms of piracy, activation will not stop the more advanced users from cracking it, Adobe admits. Finding a balance is what McManus and his team is after.

"We could make it more difficult for the hackers to crack, but that would also make it more difficult for our honest customers – that's something we are not prepared to do," said McManus. "The goal was to make this a completely forgettable process."