Investigator: Activation Blues – Misc PCs & Laptops – Misc Software


When you change some components but apps then think it’s a whole new PC… PLUS: An alarming NBN issue.

Product activation was introduced by various software companies during the early part of this century as a way of combatting the rising tide of software piracy. The idea was that once an application was installed to a computer, it was electronically “stamped” with a digital fingerprint.

That fingerprint was created by using an installation code or product key, and some information such as a MAC address, serial number, or other identifier from your computer’s hardware. 

That works just fine until you alter enough hardware such that the fingerprint used to activate your software changes so much that the software thinks it’s been moved to another computer.

Ron sent us a message regarding repairs made to his Toshiba Satellite L750. This system is a few years old and was suffering some problems. He took it to an authorised repairer who, after a failed attempt at fixing the problem with a motherboard with “a spare they had around”. When that didn’t work, they ordered a new part.

While the system was in for repair, Ron took the opportunity to get a new 1TB hard drive installed as well. The repairer cloned his old 500GB to the new 1TB drive. “They installed a 1TB HDD, and transferred all my files across- apparently faultlessly. With all my screen shortcut icons and beautiful wallpaper still sacrosanct,” said Ron.

But the anti-piracy protections Microsoft had built into Office 2010 “detected different hardware”. This triggered the commencement of a trial mode. 

The change of motherboard and hard drive is what has most likely caused this issue. Given that the motherboard holds the graphics card, network interface and other key components, and he added a new hard drive, it looked, like he had copied that installation of Microsoft Office Professional 2010 another computer. And, unfortunately, Ron can’t find his original purchase information.

As if that wasn’t bad enough Ron is working on his doctoral thesis and he has purchased many of his books from Amazon’s Kindle store. His collection of 1200 Kindle books can’t be opened and he has had no luck contacting someone at Amazon for help.

So, there are two problems to solve; the Microsoft Office Activation and access to his Kindle books. Adding to the complexity, I think, is that the version of Microsoft Office has been superseded with a couple of subsequent releases. But we put the question to Microsoft and Amazon to see what could be done.

Ron eventually solved his Kindle problem. As there had been so many changes made to what he now calls his “new old computer”, he found that Amazon was treating his computer as a completely new device.

Once that leap was made, and he notes that the error messages he was seeing did not make it clear that was the problem, he was able to access his library of Kindle books. 
So, he now needs to redownload his library of 1200 books so that he can access them on his “new old” computer.

Microsoft Australia contacted Ron and he also received a follow-up call from Microsoft USA after we escalated the issue on Ron’s behalf. 

They talked him through locating the Office installation-date from my laptop which he read out. They called him back and provided the required confirmation codes to unblock his MS Office 2010 Pro Plus installation.

NBN and Alarms

We recently wrote about the issues faced by a reader with connecting his “call to base” alarm system to the NBN. Fred contacted us to tell us how he solved this problem with his system. As he was able to connect his analogue phone to his NBN modem, he could see why the same wouldn’t work with alarm system.

Fred purchased a two-way splitter, plugged it into the Telstra modem, and terminated the alarm line so he could plug it into the splitter.

He completed a live test with the security company – the alarm was activated by intrusion and it registered at the security monitor.

Despite getting no help from the security company, who wanted to sell him a newer system, he found a technician who changed the wiring from the alarm so it would work.

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