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Hardware Lock Debater's Guide


Rhetoric is a much maligned and neglected skill in this inarticulate age. The introduction of the hardware lock in AutoCAD version 2.5 afforded a superb opportunity for Autodesk folk to hone their debating skills; a great deal of energy and large chunks of 1986 disappeared into The Great Hardware Lock Debate. Intense technical, ethical, and philosophical arguments swirled within the company, our dealer network, our customers, and the software industry itself. Emotions ran high, as most participants held opinions at extreme ends of the spectrum. At the height of the debate, Product Support drafted this position paper, explaining our reasoning. We decided to discontinue the lock on domestic products anyway, in recognition of the deep cultural chasm between customers in North America and the rest of the world. In retrospect, it was a sound business decision, as we defused most of the antagonism directed against us, with no apparent loss in revenue.

In Defense of the Hardware Lock

September 23, 1986

By Victor Zlobotsky, Rear Admiral USN (Ret.), visionary inventor of the superheterodyne crystal and general-purpose energy transponder, technological precursors to such labor-saving devices as the Norden bombsight and the programmable microwave oven.[Footnote]

The Law is on our side: The courts have held, correctly in our view, that software is both copyrightable and patentable; that ``works in code are quite privileged from an intellectual property perspective.'' Running unpaid-for copies of AutoCAD in violation of the Software License Agreement, is in fact, theft, even though copying disk files is temptingly trivial. The hardware lock is the simplest way for us to protect our legal rights in safeguarding our property from unauthorized use.

Protection of License Agreement: Autodesk is committed to maintaining the integrity of our Software License Agreement. The hardware lock is the most painless, least obtrusive means of assuring compliance with the Agreement; it supplants such awkward artifacts as special master diskettes and hard disk installation counters.

It is not copy protection: It is Software License Agreement protection. The hardware lock allows unlimited copying of AutoCAD software files for backup/archival purposes. Users can make backup copies, load AutoCAD onto hard disks, run from network file servers, and have copies of the program installed on multiple machines. Only a device like the hardware lock allows such flexibility and freedom of file duplication while enforcing the License Agreement.

Fair compensation: By protecting the License Agreement, we protect our profit margins, which helps us grow quickly enough to meet the explosive demand for AutoCAD and related products. The features incorporated into Rev. 2.5 and products still on the (electronic) drawing board, all demanded by a wildly enthusiastic user community, are made possible by our ability to grow and add talented individuals to our enterprise. This also allows us to increase the staff required to provide product support to a rapidly growing base of over 60,000 installed users.

Protects users' investments: The lock protects legitimate users from the unfair competitive advantage exacted by dishonest users who would like to run unauthorized copies, yet still draw on Autodesk's resources, like phone support. With the lock, licensed users who pay for AutoCAD receive the support they are entitled to. Software pirates also receive what they pay for: zero. The hardware lock promotes a ``level playing field,'' assuring that licensed users are not subsidizing bootleggers.

Realistic pricing: By stopping the proliferation of unauthorized copies, the lock allows us to price AutoCAD fairly. Widespread software piracy otherwise tends to cause price inflation to recoup revenue lost to illegal freebies.

Wide user acceptance: The lock has enjoyed wide acceptance among our customers, the overwhelming majority of whom are scrupulously honest and appreciate the importance of protecting their License Agreement in this way. Since its introduction with the release of AutoCAD 2.5, which started shipping on July 8, less than 15% of all calls into Product Support have been complaints against the lock.

High reliability/low failure rate: Out of 13,400 locks shipped, only 38 have been returned as dysfunctional, a failure rate of only 0.28%.

Still a bargain: Autodesk has pioneered in bringing CAD technology to a wide audience. We have exploited the recent dramatic advances in micro-based computing power and graphics technology, slashing the cost of a richly functional CAD system by a full order of magnitude. A fully-configured AutoCAD system, providing over 90% of the functions that as recently as a few years ago were available only on a mainframe at a cost exceeding $100,000, is now available for less than $10,000. AutoCAD remains the most sophisticated, popular CAD software on the market at any price. Insisting that customers pay for legitimate copies is a modest, reasonable business decision.

Rebuttals To Frequent Complaints

Site Licensing: Autodesk should drop the offensive lock and offer site licensing instead.
Answer: We have chosen a policy of quantity discounts for multiple purchases, rather than offering site licensing. Substantial price discounts are available to users with multiple workstations. It is curious that interest in site licensing has jumped remarkably since the introduction of the hardware lock, implying a considerable number of users running the package in violation of the Software License Agreement.

User-vicious: The lock is a user-hostile device that is a royal pain to install.
Answer: Au contraire! The lock is easy to install; certainly no more difficult than hooking up any other peripheral device.

Interferes with other programs or plotter: Since the lock takes up my COM1 port and interferes with some of my peripheral devices, (they cannot be attached to the lock on the COM port directly), Autodesk is forcing me to buy another board just to have a second serial port. This is an unanticipated additional expense, and a major recabling headache.
Answer: The lock actively drives certain pins in the COM port; it is not a purely passive monitoring device. It is transparent to most other application programs, such as word smashers and spreadsheets, but it is not transparent to a limited class of devices, such as streaming mode digitizers and parasitic (power sucking) mice. There is no simple work-around for this.

No COM1 port: I can't run (or upgrade to) Rev. 2.5, since my machine does not have a COM1 port at all.
Answer: This is a degenerate case of the previous interference complaint. The number of users affected is statistically very small.

Backsliding/unraveling: My system worked fine with the previous revision of AutoCAD, but the hardware lock refuses to work with my existing cabling, causing unwarranted replacement expense.
Answer: The hardware lock is somewhat more exacting in requiring that all connecting cables be up to the standards specified in the Installation Guide. Users who jury-rigged quick cables on the cheap, like the old 3-wire plotter trick, will have to bring their cabling up to reasonable electrical standards. In these cases, the hardware lock is helping users by eliminating faulty cables that may pose electrical and fire hazards.[Footnote]

Lock is a ``weak link'' in system: It's an intolerable nuisance to have my entire business/office/drafting system depend on a fragile piece of plastic that is easily lost or stolen.
Answer: The lock is an integral part of the system. The same proper caution and security you use to protect your computer should be extended to include the lock. You can't drive your car without your car keys, either, yet we all live with them and exercise sufficient care for their protection. Authorized resellers may request a spare lock for their inventory. There is also a reasonable procedure to replace locks quickly that are found to be defective in the field.

Over a year's experience in Europe has shown that a system is far more likely to be brought to a stop by a bad keyboard or hard disk than by a lock failure. Note also that a lock failure, if it does occur, does not cause loss of work-in-progress.

Susceptible to theft: The lock is an external appendage that is too easily stolen by mischievous hooligans.
Answer: We are considering offering an internal lock that would tuck inside the machine's ``skin'' for certain popular computers. Since we support so many different machines (over 70 at last count), the wide variety of individual computer design and packaging make the production of multiple, physically different internal lock designs prohibitively expensive.

9-to-25 pin adapter: Autodesk should ship 9-to-25 pin adapters to those users who are now forced to ``roll their own'' as a result of the hardware lock.
Answer (under investigation): We are negotiating with several suppliers who can provide high-quality connectors at a reasonable price. We are investigating the possibility of including these adapters on certain versions of AutoCAD (like the IBM AT).[Footnote]

Low marginal production costs: Autodesk is ripping me off by charging outrageous sums for installing additional AutoCAD workstations in my shop, when their marginal production costs are so low. Each AutoCAD unit can't possibly cost more than 59 cents for the floppy disks, plus a few pennies more for the packaging.
Answer: Our marginal production costs are actually quite high, although it is less obvious from the physical appearance of the final product. Hardware manufacturers, by contrast, crank out tangible, heavy units where the cost of the raw materials and metal-bending is far more visible. Our costs are labor-intensive. We have to pay all the salaries for software development, marketing, sales, product support and training. We pour more than 20 man-years per year into the development and refinement of AutoCAD, continually adding new features requested by our customers.

Swimming upstream: Autodesk is foolishly bucking the clear industry trend by protecting its product at a time when most other vendors are abandoning protection schemes of every stripe.
Answer: Untrue by virtue of false comparison. Most competitive software costing more than $2,000 is protected, including products from CalComp[Footnote], Computervision[Footnote], and McDonnell-Douglas[Footnote], all of which use a hardware protection device like ours. Some publishers of mass market software are dropping copy protection because of concerns about user inconvenience with limited numbers of master disks, hard disk install and de-install, and hard disk backup--problems that don't arise with a hardware device.

Invasion of privacy: The hardware lock is fundamentally un-American; it violates my right to privacy under the first, fifth, eighth and eighteenth amendments to the Constitution, and my lawyer will be serving you with a subpoena next Tuesday.
Answer: The lock is no more an invasion of privacy than any other security device. It's there for your long-term protection, including the safeguard against one of your own employees violating the Software License Agreement unbeknownst to you. In corporate environments and small, multi-person offices, the lock actually eliminates the need for employers to play the unpleasant role of software police.

Philosophical self-righteousness: ``There should be no secrets between any two sentient beings in the universe'', and this logically extends, by induction, to the moral repugnance of copy-protecting any software.
  Answer: Timothy Leary expounded this belief once, and now he is a software publisher himself, carefully watching his own margins. (Yes, but is Mind Explorer copy protected?)

Hard-core intransigence: I don't buy any of these arguments, and I'm so incensed at the hardware lock that I will purchase all future CAD software from a competing publisher, just for spite.
Answer: If you are that adamant about the lock, try using AutoSketch. It runs without the lock, is inexpensive, yet gives you over 75% of AutoCAD's functionality.

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Next: Information Letter 13 Up: The Autodesk File Previous: Flat-out Programming

Editor: John Walker