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Thread: Are we now living in a world where internet "activation" is acceptable?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Orlando, FL - USA

    Default Are we now living in a world where internet "activation" is acceptable?

    Hi everyone,

    Today we learned that one of our very nice and passionate customers had their gear stolen. Apparently the thief got away with the laptop computer and Pangolin laser controller hardware. This happens from time to time. In fact, it seems more common that the FB3 would be stolen, rather than all the gear. But it's easy to imagine.

    Some of you know that -- in the past, when Pangolin hardware was stolen, if a customer came to us an explained the situation, we would offer hardware at a discounted price (usually very close to our cost), as long as the customer also supplied a police report. We believed this was a reasonable prerequisite.

    Well last year a situation arose (I'm sorry to say involving a really unreasonable customer) that made us re-think that policy. If your laptop is stolen, Apple will neither give you a replacement for free, nor give you any discounts. In fact, I could not think of any other company in the entire world who would give you a discount. So why should our behavior be any different (aside from that we wanted to be nice guys up until then)? After all, if the company has insurance and files an insurance claim for the full cost of Pangolin hardware (and software), but we give them replacement hardware at a discount and software for free, this could be a way of actually profiting from the situation! So starting around this time last year we changed our behavior to be more in line with the rest of the world. Your stuff was stolen? While we're sorry to hear that, file an insurance claim...

    The situation with the customer mentioned above involved not only their computer and FB3 hardware but also the BEYOND license. Because our software licensing is essentially hardware dependent, when the hardware gets stolen it basically means that the software gets stolen too... Due to our licensing scheme, there is no way for us to "turn off" software that has already been turned on. And also no way for us to defend against the occasional false claims of things being stolen. (I'm sorry to say, not everyone is honest in reporting what really happened...)

    Because of this, it meant that the customer must also purchase an additional BEYOND license -- obviously something that added to the heart break of the whole situation. The customer was understandably upset about this. It seemed as though Pangolin was being unreasonable. After all -- as they put it "Resolume and other companies" can just transfer a license.

    I'm not familiar with Resolume (other than knowing what it does) and I don't know what "and other companies" they were referring to. However, if these softwares are activated online, then it becomes more understandable. For example at Pangolin we use Adobe products and also 3D cad called “Solid Works”, which requires online activation, and which will allow itself to be run on a limited number of computers (in the case of Adobe, 2). When we try to use Adobe or Solid Works on a third computer, it automatically deactivates all of the other computers. Especially with Solid Works it represents a huge inconvenience, but I will admit that, in the end it works and I can't think of anything better.

    Now, turning this model to Pangolin, up until now we have not required online activation, or required an internet connection to be present at any time during the entire lifetime of the product. Up until now, we believed that this was a good idea, and that especially DJs liked to keep their computers off the internet as a way of preventing viruses. (Hehe, and preventing damn Windows 10 from updating…)

    The main point off this post (and I'm sorry for taking so long to get here) is — what would be better? And especially — are we now living in an age where permanent (or at least periodic) internet connection is acceptable, and where software activation “on line” is acceptable?

    Up until now, we believed the requirement of an internet connection was not acceptable. But if we’re now living in an age where online activation is acceptable to everyone around the world, then all I can say is — AWESOME!!!

    As some of you know, we’re battling piracy now and it’s not easy for us. But if everyone will go online — at least from time to time, then it will be much easier for us to battle piracy, and also obviously easy to deal with situations like equipment being stolen and transferring licenses.

    So I'd like to hear from the members here at Photon Lexicon. Would the majority accept online activation?

    Best regards,

    William Benner
    Last edited by Pangolin; 01-27-2019 at 14:56.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Nottingham, UK


    100% no, please

    Long answer:
    While the argument // business model argued for software activation // phone home // etc. works for some companies in different markets... Pangolin's software generally operates in the live entertainment market. Pertaining only to the technological / IT side of things: this can be a barbaric place from show to show:
    "Onsite with no internet"
    "Onsite in a field in the middle of nowhere with worse than dial up speeds when 80,000 people arrive and hammer the cellular networks"
    "What's a network? We're using DMX and damp string only here..."
    "On a plane with no WiFi, need to use the software to do X/Y/Z"
    "Onsite with 1,000Mps fibre connection, but certain IP's / services are blocked from a site firewall"
    "My show controller is locked inside a cupboard and is expected to work unattended for years on end"

    Calling firmly back to "the show must go on" mentality... any sort of hurdles like the software saying: "I'm sorry Sir, you can't do your show right now because of an artificial imposition from the manufacturers to check if I'm genuine", will not be 100% foolproof. There will be, however well the system and circumstances are, edges cases where this will fail for genuine customers, and / or false positives, where genuine customers will have issues because of this extra hurdle. This will cause you to loose those said once happy customers.

    Possible solutions:
    - (Preferred) Make your software 100% completely free, and amortise the software R&D costs into hardware sales (When did you last pay for OS X?)
    - Do away with the BMP licence file system and it's complexities and finesse, and use hardware to licence your software if you simply 100% must decide you need protection. Either directly into the controllers, or from a USB key basis. Either one will be hacked if it's gets enough adoption, that's unavoidable.
    "You've lost the hardware key? I'm sorry, you need to buy a new one".

    Either way... do not create software with a "ticking shutdown time bomb" inside it, as will only cause more problems than any potential gain it will solve.

    All the best,
    Last edited by danielbriggs; 01-27-2019 at 15:38.
    - There is no such word as "can't" -
    - 60% of the time it works every time -

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Authentic Asian food area of SoCal


    my $.02... For desktop applications in which you make a living "at the office", online activation poses no problems. For mobile applications, such as laser shows, I find the prospect of online activation extremely cumbersome. Yes, internet is almost everywhere but there are times where it isn't. No internet and no cell phone service (beyond limited voice) is still prevalent.

    You also touched on the extremely invasive software side of things nowadays. It isn't just windows 10. It's browsers, it's flash, it's acrobat, it's itunes, antivirus software... So many apps hit the "tubes" looking for an update trigger file. All of these have the capability of interrupting laser software. My Pangolin PC isn't "air-gapped" per se but I keep it offline most of the time. It goes online long enough to check for Beyond/QS updates. My laser PC does not have antivirus software because of slowdown. I'd like to keep it that way.

    To the unreasonable person who lost their gear, that sucks for them. I have been ripped off before and it sucks. You want to blame someone, you want to feel that you don't have to start back at square-1 but you slowly find that you'll have to and you are way more careful the next time. Once bitten, twice shy. We, in this age of millennials and Gen-Zers, are adopting more laws and means to protect us from ourselves and keep us from making mistakes. That's a bad road to go down. I feel this applies to the situation here. We can't ctrl-z life mistakes. If we could, we'd never learn from them. We watch our gear and the crowd to make sure we are operating a laser show safely, right? Shouldn't we be that attentive to our gear after the show stops?

    I don't mind the occasional "mandatory" Beyond/QS update because I can preempt the interruption by enabling my NIC for a few minutes and start the software a few hours before I leave for a venue but to have to be connected all the time seems like a bit much. As for piracy... I have no input. Pirates make life miserable for everyone. DRM sucks for the end user as much as it sucks for the company that has to employ it.

    One more thing for the unreasonable user, don't look a gift horse in the mouth!

    Good to see you back on here, Bill!

    I've probably got a few repeats of what Dan said because I was composing as he posted.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Orlando, FL - USA


    Hi guys,

    Thanks for the responses and I am hoping for many more.

    For what it's worth, "Resolume" is most certainly live performance software, and so I think it's fair to look at what they are doing.

    I'd also like to avoid placing blame on the user, or calling them Gen X or Gen Y or whatever. Frankly I'm not sure what generation they are from, but don't care too much either.

    This is a situation that comes up around once a year. When it happens we deal with it as best as we can. With our software and hardware being so prolific, and with us knowing our customers very well, we are often able to arrange for another customer to loan some equipment to get people through a show. Nevertheless, we'd like to have a better system! Especially in the context of piracy, which is happening now more and more (and costing not only Pangolin, but also our users indirectly), having the software do things online would most certainly help us to at least keep tabs on this.

    Nevertheless, both of your posts make it clear that we'd need to make it as fool-proof as possible, and have "backup methods" such as the customer calling us on the telephone and asking for a special code that could be conveyed over the phone. Even now it happens perhaps once every 3 months that people will call us for support, literally at the show, moments before they're supposed to go live. In most cases we are able to resolve the problem over the phone, and it is my own personal mobile phone on the outgoing voice mail if nobody is at the office...

    And regarding your comment about making the software free and charging for the hardware like Apple does, in essence, we already do that with QuickShow now. But we still do have "levels" of BEYOND, offered at additional cost. Apple does this as well (albeit not with the operating system).

    Great points thought!


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2006


    Just use a dongle. This would ideal in my opinion. Plug it in and you can use your licenced software.
    Not tied to computer hardware or so.
    Also let the SW check if the dongle is not blacklisted once in a while. This is unobtrusive for the user (unless he's the thief )
    If it gets stolen, then you can disable it once the dongle is used on a computer connected to the internet.
    And initialize the dongle once per SW installation. This way the first time a dongle is used you can check if it is legit and which level of your sw it unlocks.

    I know that a dongle is not always loved because you can hack it if not done properly and you have to send a physical object over to the customer.
    But it has obvious advantages. (Eg. backup machines)
    One could always combine both or support both depending on the need in each particular case.
    Anyway. I need to use dongles from time to time for my work and apart from the fact that they use an usb port, I do not find them very inconvenient.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2012


    ... I was a developer at Delcam (before they were acquired by Autodesk) - after some incidents with stolen software (and sources!) they introduced "temporary" dongles.

    The dongles were managed in a central database and could thus be delivered with limited releases, but could also be extended with updates for additional software options/modules.

    Furthermore they were only executable for 3 months - shortly before (or after expiration of time) they had to be "reactivated" again via an internet connection ...

    Aufruf zum Projekt "Müll-freie Meere" -
    Call for the project "garbage-free seas" -

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2008



    Thanks for asking for the input of the community on this topic. I suspect you will find some passionate opinions, perhaps on both sides.

    Before going further, I'll state that I am not YET a Beyond user. I'm an ion laser fan, and have been using EtherDream hardware with LSX. But, I just ordered my first diode projector, and it has an integrated FB4. My next purchase, towards the end of Q1, will be a license for Beyond Advanced. In some ways, this discussion is critical to my decision making.

    I am an IT professional. Specifically, software development, and network/system administration. Throughout my career, I have tried to avoid software that requires internet activation. In many cases, I have paid extra for licensing dongles, or offline licensed software. And I continue this, to this day.

    I am uncomfortable with vendors being in control of whether or not I can use the software that I have legally licensed. Also, Internet connectivity, although more ubiquitous than ever, is still not guaranteed.

    As heartbreaking as it is to have equipment stolen, I'm not sure if the proper way to police this is by forcing an online activation model for the many users that do not run into a situation such as this. Yes, we all could experience this tragedy. But at what point is it the responsibility of the equipment owner to secure their own investment?

    When anyone pays thousands of dollars for anything, we should safeguard the equipment from theft, damage, misuse, etc.

    I completely understand your desire to move to such a model. It is convenient for the vendor, and does offer some protections for the consumer. But for all the conveniences to both parties, there are also real and perceived downfalls.

    Regarding Pangolin's kindness in replacing hardware.... That is a very nice gesture. But, as you already pointed out, if the company involved has insurance, they should file a claim. They should have it replaced via the 'normal' channels.

    My first suggestion would be to NOT move to an online activation model.

    But, if Pangolin pushes in this direction, I'd suggest giving the consumer the option to choose their licensing model... For instance:

    Option A: Online activation. State that internet connectivity is required, and that this helps protect the consumer from theft, etc.

    Option B: License tied to a dongle or DAC. State that in the event of a theft, Pangolin will have no way to deactivate the license, and the consumer will have no recourse but to purchase a new license. Perhaps this option costs a modest amount more, to cover the cost of the dongle (if not tied to a DAC), and a small premium to help push people towards the online model that you'd prefer.

    I, for one, would go with Option B, no question.

    Again, it is very kind of Pangolin to help past theft victims get back on their feet. But, to your point, it exposes Pangolin to the possibility of abuse. I personally would never expect ANY company to replace my hardware at a discount because I failed to protect my investment. I would never call Dell, were my laptop to be stolen...

    Also, on the topic others mentioned around piracy, etc. There is absolutely no license model on Earth that will 100% prevent piracy. Hardware, software, online, offline, it does not matter. It's just like the fact that the locks on our doors at home are only to keep honest people out. If someone is motivated, they absolutely will get in. This same fact applies to software equally. All a publisher can do is build in reasonable protections, and trust that the majority of users are legitimate users who want to support Pangolin, so that we can continue to enjoy your hardware and software.

    Unruly customers are something that every business will run into now and then. But just because they are unruly, it doesn't mean that they are right.

    With all this said.... I look forward to purchasing Beyond Advanced in a month or two... And I'd like an offline licensed version.

    Again, thanks for asking for the community input. I respect that greatly.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    East Sussex, England


    I'm not going to try and offer solutions, because others more clever than me already do that, better.
    But I will say that having software licenses easily transferable/recoverable would be VERY desirable, the online aspect of enabling that appears to be less popular.
    I personally don't have too much of an issue if it's a one-time thing on installation, and if trying to recover a license, but a persistent periodic check probably not for all the reasons Dan Briggs mentioned.

    You are using Bonetti's defense against me, ah?

    I thought it fitting, considering the rocky terrain.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2006


    Quote Originally Posted by bradstockdale View Post
    Option B: License tied to a dongle or DAC. State that in the event of a theft, Pangolin will have no way to deactivate the license, and the consumer will have no recourse but to purchase a new license. Perhaps this option costs a modest amount more, to cover the cost of the dongle (if not tied to a DAC), and a small premium to help push people towards the online model that you'd prefer.
    I just don't like that a license is tied to a dac. I'm considering building in an fb4 into my projectors. Why should I then keep 1 fb apart to be able to run my software. I could choose one of the fb4's in one of the projectors then, but if you have a lot of equipment, then you choose your projectors depending on the job and maybe not the projector tied to the license...

    btw, I do not have beyond yet, but consider buying it. I have the same concerns regarding license tied to a dac, dongle or online.
    Edit: I have a seperate server that I use to run Quickshow in 'production' and I use a laptop to draw and design. I find it very annoying that I need to plug in my fb4 to run Quickshow. So when moving to beyond this would worsen. I would then prefer a dongle so that I could design on my laptop and run from my server.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Orlando, FL - USA


    Thanks for the continued feedback guys.

    For what it's worth, with Phoenix, after a year of acquiring it, we did change it such that REGISTRATION was "required". Registration was not (necessarily) done "online", but was done using a code that could be sent by email. It's hard to explain, but it worked like our demo software works. The code wasn't very long, so it was easy to "speak" from across the room (for example if you had one computer that worked with email and was connected to the internet, and another computer across the room that never ever connected to the internet).

    Right now our demo software also uses "required" registration, and as explained above, for the past several years Phoenix also used "required" registration. We figured we'd try it on Phoenix before doing this with our classic Pangolin software, because Phoenix has a smaller user base. If there was going to be pain, we'd hear about it from a smaller user base and could react more readily.

    Our demo software has worked the way it has I think since around 2012. Phoenix for the past few years. And I don't remember even so much as a single complaint...

    Note that the few sentences above speak to REGISTRATION (i.e. what happens the very first time you install and run the software). This is not periodic activation which you now must do with Adobe products and with Solid Works, and I am sure many others.

    The customer mentioned Resolume, which most certainly has a use case very similar to that of Pangolin's. The customer also mentioned "and others"... I've asked for feedback about "which others", etc.

    The piracy thing is a real bitch, and something really costing everyone (not just Pangolin, although we are the most directly hit). So this whole topic is something pretty timely.

    By the way, I do like the "two options" approach. We will need to think about how this would work.


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