WHAT'S THE NEXT step beyond software product activation? How about hardware deactivation?
A reader we'll call Mr. Fields recently purchased a Casio Cassiopeia BE-300, a PDA he was thinking of using to distribute a custom application to clients. When he saw Casio also had an OS upgrade to take the BE-300 from Windows CE 3.0 to Windows CE .Net, he purchased the $30 upgrade CD as well, thinking it would provide him with additional features he might need. In this Mr. Fields was soon disappointed, discovering that the CE .Net features he really needed were not included in the upgrade due to the device's memory constraints.
But that wasn't the only disappointment the upgrade held for Mr. Fields. "What Casio doesn't say anywhere on their Web site, and you don't find out until you do the upgrade or read the very fine print on the lower-left corner of the jewel case, is that if you don't register the software within 30 days after installation, your PDA will shut down," he writes. "I find this completely unacceptable. It is one thing to disable the upgrade software, but it is a whole different story to break my paid-for hardware and also, therefore, disable all my non-Casio, paid-for software. Let me say that again. Their software, which I paid for, will keep me from using the hardware and all other software, which I also paid for. Incredible."
Adding fuel to Mr. Fields' flame was the fact that Casio's registration system required far more personal data than the typical product activation scheme. "Did I mention that the online registration form has required fields that include your home address, your home telephone number, and your age?" Mr. Fields writes. "They don't have a right to any of that information, and certainly don't need anything more than the PDA and CD-ROM serial numbers. But if you don't provide it, well ... boom."
Not wanting to provide Casio with that information, and not having found the upgrade to meet his needs in any case, Mr. Fields naturally decided to reverse the upgrade and revert back to Windows CE 3.0. "The manual [for the upgrade] suggests you can uninstall the software back to factory settings," he writes. "My experience and [that of other BE-300 users on the Internet] show that the upgrade makes some permanent changes and that you cannot reverse it. I was unable to uninstall the software and I was left with a dead PDA. Casio tech support couldn't help either, after an hour of trying. Thankfully, the BE-300 is under warranty and is currently on its way back to the factory. At my expense and lost time, of course. Needless to say, I won't be recommending this product for my clients."
Checking Casio's Web site, I confirmed Mr. Fields' observation that it provided no warning of the registration requirement, not even in a fairly lengthy Q&A specifically about the CE .Net upgrade. The first chance he had to learn of it was a statement in what I estimate to be 4-point type at the bottom of the license agreement on the CD jewel case: "After updating, the BE-300 will stop if you do not register within 30 days. Do not forget to register." A similar notice was buried in the user manual, but of course that could only be seen by opening the package, thereby losing the right to return the software for a refund.