How’s your proprietor treating you?

One blogger has discovered a practical problem with not having the freedom to alter software (or have it altered):

The server contacted is for a company that no longer even services the product. The product activation people do not answer the phone, even after a 6 minute hold period that consists of really bad techno music and product pitches, probably for more things that do not work…

Anything you ever buy that has “product activation” may stop being something you can use at any time, for any reason. Consumers are being raped wholesale by these companies when they invade our privacy with this method of copy protection – and thats assuming it even works in the first place.

The software does install great on a microwave oven, however…

Some posters to that blog take the sycophantic view that it was unreasonable for the blogger to let the software go uninstalled for a couple of years:

the CD for a couple of years before Installing it?

I have no real love for Sony, but it sounds as if you’re at least partly to blame.

suggest workarounds of various kinds. These posters aren’t unusual; what the arguments against the blogger (or offering some half-baked form of “help”) all have in common is that people have been taught to accept the power of proprietors as immutable and even desirable.

The real problem here is the unexamined lack of freedom for computer users. Let’s take the time to debunk the arguments presented there more thoroughly, this time accounting for user’s freedoms to run, inspect, share, and modify computer software.

Yes, “Software is not an inherently perishable good, nor is it reasonable to assume that it is.”
But what if the software had been installed immediately and the software checked with a server from time to time just to see if it was still registered? When that remote server dies or if it returns erroneous data indicating you’re use is unauthorized, you’re unable to use the program. The software installed on the user’s side could be programmed to do this and shut itself down or uninstall itself if it can’t “phone home” (as the saying goes) successfully. The only real fix is to edit the program to remove the privacy-violating code and make the program run even on a computer that has no network connection (or get such edits done for you).
“I’m sure that there has to keygen to get you around this.”
For those who don’t know: a “keygen” is a a program that generates authentication keys on demand. One ostensibly runs this program in order to obtain a key code for a proprietary program to unlock the programs functions thus gaining unrestricted use of the program (modulo the above problem which may leave the proprietor in control, of course). Yes, it is unwise to run software from just anywhere and it’s always unwise to run proprietary software, regardless of its ostensible function. But how should people be treated? Should one have to rely on unlocking a program at all? Why not demand the freedoms to do with the program as you wish, including inspecting the program to see what it will do when it runs and changing the program to make it do only what you want, or helping your community by distributing your improvements to the program? After all, this is your computer and your data. You’re hoping that a proprietary program will do what you want. And please, don’t confuse skill with freedom. The issue here has nothing to do with how skillful a hacker you are just as owning a car doesn’t mean you should be an auto mechanic. One can ask around for help. In time I expect it will become easier to find help advertised like other professional services (such as plumbing and electrical work).
Someone else provides a link to another proprietary program to “update” the software on the CD.
Why is a proprietary patch or update trustworthy? It should be viewed with the same skepticism that all other proprietary programs deserve. A program doesn’t become trustworthy because you’re prevented from running, inspecting, sharing, or modifying it for any reason at any time (despite the number of logos proclaiming how “safe” the program is). To believe otherwise is to endorse the idea that it’s okay to be kept in the dark. Why should we tolerate this? We don’t say it’s okay to be kept from knowing what is in our food, we don’t endorse removing all nutritional and ingredient information from labels. Yet people routinely endorse placing proprietary software on computers knowing others will trust that machine to do right by them. Again, please recognize that this is an argument for freedom; even if the long chemical names on modern foods are unknown to most of us, forced ignorance is not the same as apathy.
“[P]lease don’t tell me you actually still have AutoRun enabled… turning that shit off is like the first thing I do on a Windows install […]”

By default, Microsoft Windows will look for and execute a program on a removable volume (a CD, DVD, etc.). This is a huge security hole users have been taught to tolerate in the name of convenience (merely insert this disc in your computer and let it work). This feature, called Autorun, is the reason many people end up running programs that do them no good (like the Sony-BMG “rootkit” which allows other programs to do things with your computer. This particular program (installed via Autorun) also allowed Sony-BMG to control the computer remotely. According to Wikipedia, MacOS was vulnerable to this as well as Microsoft Windows. Free software systems didn’t suffer such a fate unless addtional software was installed on them to make them vulnerable.

Getting back to the quote, what if Microsoft didn’t put in a switch to let users turn off Autorun? There’s nothing compelling Microsoft to let users have this control. And who is to say that this control actually prevents all autorun programs from automatically running? Nobody knows because Microsoft Windows is proprietary; a black box. Should you trust a safety hatch placed there by the proprietor?

There’s no substitute for users having software freedom and there never will be.