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Odd Lots

Odd Lots

End of the Road for CS-in-a-Box

Big news today: Adobe’s CS6 product is the last one that you’ll be able to install “out of the box” from a retail copy. Much fuss is being made about a move that was lead-pipe predictable after Creative Cloud went live last year. Some of today’s new stories give you the impression that there’s some dazzling new browser-based whatchamacallit technology behind CC, but after reading the Creative Cloud FAQ I’m not sure there’s any radical re-engineering going on at alll. Creative Cloud is not a browser-based technology. It’s just a new release of a digitally delivered client-side app suite, with a difference: You have to connect to the Internet at least once every thirty days to authenticate it.

So calm down. It’s just stronger DRM, and a leakproof end-run around the First Sale Doctrine.

The DRM, like all DRM, is probably crackable. Having to re-crack it every thirty days will slow the pirates down a little, but I wouldn’t bet on it being impossible. DRM is less significant than then other half: You can’t resell bits the way you can resell discs. There’s a pathway to de- and re-registering an Adobe boxed product, but it’s a nuisance and I’m sure Adobe has wanted to eliminate the whole process for a long time. This’ll do it.

Going to a subscription model means that people will no longer be able to buy a box for $500 and then use it forever. Big shops may be able to justify the cost. Smaller shops may stick with old versions. Doesn’t matter. Adobe obviously wants to eliminate the perpetual-license home market, which has always cost more in support than it generates in revenue. Going to subscriptions means a predictable and mostly reliable revenue stream. Losing individual users and very small shops isn’t much of a loss, money-wise. I also wonder if this may be the end of the road for Adobe Resellers. CC may do for boxed software what self-published ebooks are doing for books: eliminating the middleman.

Now, one final point I haven’t seen others make so far: Without a boxed product for pirates to steal, Adobe will lose a certain number of sales from people who tried it illicitly, liked it, and then bought it. (Most people credit this model with giving Microsoft a lock on the office suite market back in the 90s.) This makes me wonder if the otherwise-puzzling release of non-authenticating copies of all CS2 apps back in January was intended to keep the piracy-driven sales channel alive. In a sense, Adobe provided a pre-stolen copy of CS for people to install and fool with, no risky cracking required. A certain number of those people will like it enough to sign up for CC for better apps and sync services. Also, don’t underestimate the value of skills developed in using a product line. Unlearning a product and learning a different product is a pain in the butt. (This is why student versions at breathtaking discounts make sense in the long run.)

And for all the talk about CC being the future of software, c’mon. There are maybe four software companies in the universe that can pull this off. The future for $20-$50 apps like Atlantis is bright, and open source software has never been better. Adobe has kicked itself upstairs. That leaves a whale of a lot more room for everybody else down here.

Odd Lots

The Adobe CS2 Copyright Conundrum

People have mostly stopped talking about the link page that Adobe exposed a few weeks ago, allowing the download of an activation-free copy of the entire Creative Suite 2. The page is still there, still wide open, and you no longer even have to sign in to your Adobe account to get it. What they’re up to remains unknown, though the firm has said many times and in many places that the downloads are for customers who already own the software. Adobe turned off the CS2 activation servers late last year, for reasons that remain unexplained. I’m thinking that they did the math and realized (duhhh!) that activation has its costs, and just cutting off paying customers who legitimately need to reinstall will only make those customers hate them, and very likely turn them into pirates.

I’ve said this for years: There’s no better way to teach honest people to be pirates than by “grabbing back” the use of content (software, ebooks–1984, anybody? music, anything) that they’ve already paid for. It’s untested in the courts as best I know, but to me this is very clearly fraud.

So the mystery remains. This morning, a backchannel friend (“backchannel” means email or texts relating to something on Contra) pointed me to all the original used copies of CS2 that can be had on eBay for as little as $40 or $50. He asked if it would be legal to buy one of those copies, which are original CDs in their original packaging, and then download the activation-free images from Adobe and install them.

Good question, and with a lot of questions pertaining to copyright, subject to interpretation. Big software firms have furiously fought the First Sale doctrine on software, and have pretty much won on products that are pure downloads without any physical media. They can deny activation on used software, and claim that it’s their right to do so. Adobe is very fussy about transferring ownership of their licenses, which is one reason I have not upgraded my 2002-era copy of InDesign 2.0. I consider this a sort of “hardass tax” that firms like Adobe seem willing to pay: They don’t get money I would gladly pay for an activation-free product.

Here’s the real question: If I have the original physical CDs for CS2, is my use of the activation-free download images legal? I don’t know. Could Adobe come after me (or anybody else) in court for doing so? There is some way-thin chance that they might, but it would open the gates of Hell upon their heads.

Will I try this? Still thinking. When I come to a decision I’ll let you know.

Pirates vs. Ebooks: A Webinar

Very quick note here: I will be giving a webinar today on ebook piracy and DRM at noon Mountain Time (11:00 Pacific Time, 1 PM Central Time) to a site called Book Street Cafe, based in Phoenix but not geographically limited except by time zones. It was founded by some of my friends from the now-folded Arizona Book Publishing Association, which I belonged to all the time I lived in Scottsdale and acted as president for two years. The webinar is scheduled for 45 minutes, with another 15 minutes for questions and discussion.

Book Street Cafe is a paid membership organization, but they’ve given me a one-time link for my webinar that I can post. If you want to participate, click here.

You’ll have to either have Java running or download the Citrix app that underlies the GoToMeeting technology. You’ll be able to do the download when you click to the site. I know that Java is in a bad odor right now, but the Citrix app is relatively small and only takes a few seconds to download and install.

The presentation is oriented toward print book publishers who are nervous about ebook piracy and are considering DRM. It is not a techie show. It draws on research and positions I’ve presented on Contra for several years.

We’d love to have you. Try to log in a little early so that you make sure you’re properly connected.

Odd Lots

CS2 Flies In From Adobe’s Left Field

Colds are like…well, you know what colds are like. Right now, everybody has one. I’ve been climbing out of this one now for about six days, and the top is not yet in sight. At least my flu shot worked, or I could have been in lots worse shape. If I’ve been quiet, that’s most of it.

But something remarkable happened yesterday that still has a lot of people scratching their heads. Michael Covington and several other people alerted me to the fact that Adobe had opened a download link to an installable instance of Creative Suite 2 that didn’t require activation. Rumors were thronging like Illinois mosquitoes that Adobe was just turning it loose. This is outside of type for them, let’s say.

The truth is subtler: Adobe is shutting off CS2’s activation servers, and once it does, people who have legitimate licenses to CS2 will not be able to reinstall it after a hard disk crash or whatever. So they’re providing an activation-free instance to those customers.

Why, then, did they put the download links to the installer files right out where anyone could see them? The links have been live for several days and were still live this morning, though the server has been choked here and there by activity that suggests more than just CS2 atavists clicking on the links. One would expect at very least a requirement for users to log into their Adobe accounts to get the install suite, but not so. Any code monkey could suggest four or five other ways to do it that would not present all of CS2 on a platter to the whole world.

Adobe insists that they’re not giving CS2 to everybody. So what’s really going on here? I’ll hazard a guess: They’re afraid of the Gimp, and to a lesser extent, Scribus. I think they’ve been afraid of both programs (and a scattering of others) for a long time. At some point, a bean counter probably did some spreadsheeting and realized that activation support on a long-tail product isn’t worth what it costs, and told the techies to shut it off and send the phone reps home.

Faced with that decision, somebody there may have gotten clever enough to realize that people were leaving the CS plantation for cheaper realms. The Gimp is good enough for most Photoshoppish work, according to people I respect, and if I didn’t already own InDesign 2.0, I’d probably be laying out books in Scribus. I think Adobe may be quietly trying to get more people hooked on the CS product, which is a huge revenue-generator for them. Photoshop is probably the most pirated non-OS in software history, and I wonder if they’re just making CS2 easier to pirate and looking the other way to pull a little pressure off CS6, while allowing the curious to give Creative Suite a go. There are legal reasons why they won’t admit to a strategy like that. Furthermore, as many have said, never attribute to cleverness what is better explained by incompetence. It may just be a booboo. If it is, it’s one of the longest-lived booboos of its sort I’ve ever seen.

I won’t post the link here, out of respect for Adobe’s copyrights. Trust me, you won’t have to flatten your nose to find it. I have only one more point to make: I’d like to buy that software. Yes indeed: Adobe, I’ll give you money! I won’t pay several grand for CS6. But I’ll pay a couple hundred for CS2. Alas, the product is not for sale. So what could be a revenue generator for Adobe is just another gift to the pirates, with people like me who’d like to remain legal looking on enviously.

I respect their copyrights. But still. Dumbasses!

SATA as the New Thumb Drive

I’m giving a webinar next month to a publishers’ group on the challenges of ebook piracy. So I’ve been taking notes and making sure that things haven’t changed much over the past year. One thing that surprised me a little came through on the backchannel (that is, email comments from people who for whatever reason don’t want to use Contra’s comment system) in June, concerning the resurgence of “sneakernet” piracy. I posted a link to a piece on TechDirt indicating that only 15% of music acquisition is done through all P2P technologies together. The bulk of piracy happens between friends, off the Net, where Big Media can’t see it.

What’s interesting came in through a backchannel correspondent whom I didn’t know and haven’t heard from since: Much or even most of the in-person file trading is done by treating entire high-capacity SATA hard drives as thumb drives. He saw my post on the Thermaltake BlacX case with a 2-drive SATA toaster dock built into the top panel. He has one too and wanted to see how common they were. He and his friends swap files by copying entire SATA drives onto blank drives via toaster docks, whether built into cases or standalone. I’ve had a 1-slot Ineo toaster dock since 2010, but it gathers dust now that I have the BlacX. I do my monthly off-site backups by copying everything onto a pair of 750 GB SATA drives using the docks on the top of the BlacX. I keep the backup drives in plastic flip-top cases made precisely for that purpose.

The correspondent (known only as “Don”) pointed out that there are now 2-slot standalone toaster docks that can clone drives from one to another without requiring any connection to a computer. Here’s one example (which even looks like a toaster!) and another. They’re evidently sector copiers and do not send files individually through a file system. Don and his friends get together and watch movies while popping SATA drives into and out of the docks.

I asked him if the drives ever fail by being plugged and unplugged so often. After all, internal SATA connectors are rated for only 50 matings. (ESATA connectors are rated for 5,000.) He hasn’t seen it happen so far, and if it happens, new drives are only $60-$80.

My experience with thumb drives goes the other way: I’ve had more USB ports fail on me than thumb drives. SATA drive connectors are really just etched PC board edge connectors, which can get scratched or dirty. (This is one reason I keep my SATA backup drives in plastic boxes.) I think with careful handling, drives should go a lot longer than 50 plug/unplug cycles.

Every time I think piracy can’t get any scarier, somebody comes along and says “Boo!” even louder. I keeping wondering what’s next. My hunch: Seedboxes, which still don’t entirely make sense to me. Once I figure them out, I’ll report back in this space.

Odd Lots