Activated Software and Future Data Recovery

One of the services I provide with the Museum is old Mac file transfers and conversions, allowing people with data created in obsolete Macintosh software a way to retrieve and access this information. Sometimes it’s possible to run the old files through a batch converter like MacLinkPlus, but often it’s necessary to actually run the old software and individually open each file, then do a Save As… to a different format that you can migrate forward.

Most Mac software from the 1980s and early 1990s merely requires the installer or a copy of the installed program to run. I have a large collection of such programs in my VMM Software Archives. Other software (then as now) requires a serial number upon first launch. Obtaining missing serial numbers is a hurdle, but if one was not supplied with the software it can be usually be found from one’s own contacts or various sources online.

Some professional software requires a hardware dongle or a NuBus or PCI expansion card to be physically present in order to launch. While more difficult to obtain if missing, these items too can usually eventually be found to make an old program live again.

The Problem

DW-Activation-smSince the dawn of the broadband era (last decade or so), a growing trend among major software vendors is to require online activation upon first launch, in addition to a valid serial number. This practice is used as a prevention against software piracy, and it works well. From a tech support perspective it becomes a headache if an activation is lost due to a disk crash or other issue, but for current software this can be resolved with the help of the developer’s customer service reps. (This is easiest, of course, when you and they both speak the same native language…)

From an archival perspective, and thinking of future translation needs such as those I perform with the VMM, activation presents some serious concerns. If the vendor who developed the software goes out of business, or otherwise fails to support their online activations beyond a certain date, options are very limited. Some software will work in “trial mode” for 30 days, which may or may not have full functionality. For one time use this may be sufficient, but for repeated professional use this is impractical – reinstalling/resetting the “trial” is deliberately made difficult, and sometime impossible. Unless a cracked (illegally broken) version is found, that program becomes dead. If it used a proprietary file format that other software can’t read, some data may become irretrievable.

This is a preventable problem, but will likely impact many people. I hope in the rush to preserve profits today that we are not dooming a portion of our past to unnecessary obsolescence tomorrow, requiring cracked software in order to retrieve our own data. But alas, this does seem likely…

2 responses to “Activated Software and Future Data Recovery”

  1. Adam Rosen says:


    naejalemap said…
    I agree. I have been using Pagemaker since 1987. You would think with all of the computer geniuses out there, someone could come up with a way to make Pagemaker work on the new Mac. I would buy a new top of the line Mac if someone could offer me Pagemaker that would work with it. I have been dealing with the people at Adobe and they are unfriendly and NOT helpful. They have also gone the way of Quark that when you call for help or have a question you are transferred to India. They owed me over $200.00 in a refund for an inferior product and it took a year to get it back. I sent the same paperwork to them 12 times by fax and mail. I called every month and got transferred to India and they would blast music really loud in my ear so I would hang up. We are at their mercy. Most people need their products therefore you have to buy from them. If someone were smart they would figure out how to reconstruct Pagemaker to work on these new computers. There are a lot of people out there that Love Pagemaker. It is a much more friendly package than Quark and Indesign. Indesign is much more similar to Quark than Pagemaker even though you can open your Pagemaker work in Indesign.
    January 20, 2010 at 1:06 PM

  2. Yuhong Bao says:

    Adobe has recently taken down the activation servers for CS2 and some other software and had to provide a version of the software with the activation disabled:

Leave a Reply