I was just setting up Office in my Windows 7 VM, and something happened that I’ve never seen before: the activation process found that I had installed the license too many times and I should therefore call Microsoft on the phone and explain myself. Or something like that. Oddly, this time I had been using a license number that was in fact listed as an Office Professional key in my list of keys from my MSDN subscription. In the VMs, I rarely use anything but Access (to look at mdb files that I created during demos, mostly) and sometimes Excel. Somehow I always think I’ll install a bit more than these two apps, although I never actually end up using any of the other applications.

Anyway, this time I thought Professional should suffice, so I chose that key — the installer didn’t seem to care though, it listed Universal during the whole process, and since the key was then listed with too many installations though I’d never used it before, there must be some sort of unification going on behind the scenes.

The background of installation counts going up is simple: I’m installing new VMs every now and then, and most of them have Office. Depending on the machine I’m using the VMs on, I also change the RAM amount quite often, though I believe the resulting re-activation shouldn’t count towards the limit. Anyway, after a while I dump a VM and start working with a new one, and the activation that was in the VM is dead to me — still no way to “deactivate” an Office version, I believe. So I call this number for the UK and go through the process of entering the 54 digit number given in the form. Great fun. That done, the computer lady on the other end asks me to wait for my confirmation code to be generated, and then she says they want to ask me a few questions.

Question 1: is my license a preinstalled license on my computer (press 1), a retail license (press 2) or a home/student edition (press 3)?

Obviously, being part of my MSDN subscription, none of these applies, so I do nothing. The computer repeats the question, and then another time. Suddenly the line disconnects. Thanks, Microsoft. Way to go.

Second call, 54 digits later, the lady claims that my code could now “not be verified”. Doesn’t that mean, pretty much, that I must have entered it incorrectly? No, apparently not: a human finally makes it onto the call, and she only needs the first six digits of the code again to be able to deal with me. She wants to know on how many computers I have the license installed. I tell her I don’t have a clue (I skip the part about the different SKUs thinking that’ll confuse things needlessly), since I’ve installed it in lots of VMs that I don’t use anymore. I don’t think she understands a word, her next question is whether I use the license on one or two machines. I tell her I still don’t know, but it’s probably been installed on more than two, although I don’t actually use it in more than three or so right now. I think she’s confused now. I feel pity with the woman, so I tell her that my license is from an MSDN subscription that I get from Microsoft for being an MVP. Apparently that’s a magic word, because she says (in a questioning voice, as if I’m the one to know that better than she would): “so you’ve got multiple licenses for this software”. I believe her and make confirming noises. She dictates back to me a huge long number and my Office is activated.

Microsoft: please grow up. This is not a licensing scheme, this is harassment. What purpose does it serve? Have you heard that it’s cracked? Well, I have (I think it was in some magazine at the petrol station about two days after the Office 2007 release), and at this point I’m thinking maybe I should be using the cracked version and skip all that activation nonsense. Do what you like to try and prevent people from stealing your software, that’s not the problem. But how about this as a general top-priority guideline: If your anti-piracy mechanisms start annoying legitimate users of your software, you’re doing something wrong. And deal with this: this is how I use your software. You don’t want me to use it like this? Well, then I’m not going to use it at all. Fortunately, there are enough alternatives around these days that I don’t have to deal with your “fuck the paying customer” attitude. What a waste of time. I could have installed Open Office three times over in the same time. Now where’s that Office crack? Don’t worry, I’m just joking. But it’s right there in Google (and in Live Search, incidentally). Seriously.