A Plea for Simpler Registration

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Steve Litchfield muses on the fact that IMEI-based codes make registration of the third party software you buy much more of a pain than it really needs to be.

I know I'm going to get flamed to high heaven by the Symbian Developer Community for writing this, but it has to be said that the current device-specific registration system used for most software is a right pain in the proverbial.

In the world of Palm OS, for example, you register a program and you get a registration code that's specific to your 'HotSync' name (usually the same as your actual name). If your PDA should perish or be lost, or if you simply upgrade, your registration code will carry on working because your name won't have changed. And developers don't need to worry too much about piracy because if you gave out your code to others, it would be obvious who'd started the outbreak and you'd get a writ from the developers in very short order.

Contrast this with the current situation in the Symbian world. When you buy a Series 60 or UIQ application, you supply the long, very unmemorable, and easy to get wrong, string of numbers (the IMEI) unique to your smartphone and get a tailored registration code that only works for your device. Three months down the road, you upgrade from, say, a Sony Ericsson P900 to a P910, or from a Nokia 3650 to a Nokia 7610. Most of your third party software will now no longer be registered, your old codes won't work and you'll have to contact each developer in turn and ask for a new code. For a power user with twenty or thirty applications loaded, this is enormously time-consuming.

In fact, IMEI-specific registration codes represent so much hassle that I often recommend people to look back at simpler freeware applications that can be used on any device without restriction or registration. (There's a complete list for Series 80, UIQ and Series 60 at 3-Lib)

Is it too much to ask that developers revert to the simpler system of a registered name (e.g. "John Smith") and a code derived from the name (e.g. "77hjhsj78", or whatever)? So, having bought the software, you'd 'own' a valid name and code combination and could type it into the application afresh on your next smartphone. My own (ahem) applications use this scheme, for example, as do those from SplashData and only a handful of others.

Developers will say, of course, that using IMEI-derived codes helps stop casual piracy, to stop family and friends of a registered user also using their programs. But what about the equally large factor of users being well and truly put off by the way registrations are currently handled? And surely a little casual sharing around of programs is a good thing for shareware, as each program will reach a wider audience. At worst, a user is not going to pass on his own personal code to anyone other than very immediate family, so everything beyond that will be free distribution of the trial/shareware version to new and active users, an absolutely ideal way for viral distribution of a good program.

Steve Litchfield, October 2004

PS. There are other issues bedevilling the PDA shareware industry, of course, such as over-'crippled' trial versions and silly time limits, but these are part of another rant for another day...