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Educational Software Thread, Registration via internet of newly installed software (on each machine) in Technical; I sell a piece of software called TaskMagic. Installation currently does not require registration of any kind and it is ...
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    Registration via internet of newly installed software (on each machine)

    I sell a piece of software called TaskMagic. Installation currently does not require registration of any kind and it is possible to use a silent msi install to install it to all machines on a network (although not all schools are 100% happy with the msi in its current form). I am thinking of moving to a register online system (following requests from distributors outside the UK). The system involves the registration on each machine (once only) following installation and with an internet connection. Updating, re-installing the software etc should not require re-registering of the software.
    So I was wondering:
    1) How many educational software titles require registration on each machine in the way outlined above?
    2) How much would a system like this discourage a network manager from installing software which requires registration in this way? Is it the kind of thing which would encourage them to turn to the member of staff or department and say that, sorry, s/he is not able / prepared to install the software?

    I thought I'd ask on here, as you're the people who have to do the installation, and maybe you could give me some feedback on how you would like installations to be ideally. (If there is a thread that deals with this already, I haven't found it, but I'd appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction.)

    Martin Lapworth

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    Jamman960's Avatar
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    Not much of our software currently requires activation over the net, as long as its as automated as possible I don't normally mind(if we could add the details to the msi that'd be great).

    It must support automatic proxy detection and authentication - I've found a few programs that don't, having to resort to email/phone or other manual forms of activation isn't fun if it needs doing for a decent amount of workstations

    Make sure the activation carries accross between users - I've encountered one program that required activation per user and pc, this is the only software I've so far refused to install - fourtunatly the company has since fixed this issue.

    Oh and if your going to ask for things like address, phone number that need to be entered per workstation please keep it short... software that asks for loads of info other than the serial/email address tends to get false info returned.

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    mlapworth (4th April 2010)

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    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    1) How many educational software titles require registration on each machine in the way outlined above?
    Few, in my experience. Most software houses currently grant a site license and trust the institution, because it's in their own interest since:

    2) How much would a system like this discourage a network manager from installing software which requires registration in this way? Is it the kind of thing which would encourage them to turn to the member of staff or department and say that, sorry, s/he is not able / prepared to install the software?
    It would be an important factor, certainly. Please imagine that you are one of a team of two looking after 500 desktops and 300 laptops, some of which are staff machines so you only see them rarely. This is not an uncommon situation in UK schools.

    A teacher asks you in November to install this software, which you know there isn't time to do until the following Summer, so you tell him this and he is disappointed, but accepts the situation because he realises how overworked you are already. The Summer arrives and you distribute the software unattended, and spend three weeks going around every machine to register it (which takes longer than you anticipated, because the LEA's filter is paranoid and stops you, and you have no local control over it - also common). After doing so, the teacher explains that because it took so long to get it set up, he's already found a web-based alternative and forgot to tell you, because he's a busy guy too. You are later taken to hospital after jumping off three bridges.

    I thought I'd ask on here, as you're the people who have to do the installation, and maybe you could give me some feedback on how you would like installations to be ideally. (If there is a thread that deals with this already, I haven't found it, but I'd appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction.)
    Personally, an ideal solution would be one of:

    a) an MSI transform holding our license number that we apply to unattended installations, and your installer checks it against your server automatically (but remember the problem with filtering);
    b) a totally web-based application, with our static IP address registered against it. This is also easier for you to maintain; however, be careful of LEAs that proxy every school in the county through one IP.

    Kudos for coming and asking though. It beats most edu-houses, who write a mediocre application, wrap it in a poor installer, and sell it to teachers without any consideration for how it's going to get on their machine.

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    mlapworth (4th April 2010)

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    Good to see someone actually doing market research in the sector! As powdarrmonkey has mentioned, many educational software developers don't realise they need to talk to the technicians and not just the teachers. In answer to your questions:
    1. Quite few, as far as I know.
    2. Unless there was a simple way of automating the online registration, this would unfortunately be a deal-breaker for me. I'm a team of one, and I can't afford to spend my time visiting 140 machines in turn to activate a piece of software.

    The only piece of software I've dealt with that required online activation was Matchware Mediator, and that allowed you to pass information to the MSI installer that would trigger the per-machine activation automatically when it installed. I hasten to add that this process didn't always work very well, but I blame that on poor implementation rather than a flawed idea.

    Personally, my preferred method is to have an MSI which I can deploy via GPO Software Installation. You say that some schools are unhappy with the MSI in its current form; though you don't specify what problems some schools have with it, I know from experience that the quality of MSIs can vary greatly. The worst are usually ones built with capture programs such as WinstallLE when the developer hasn't picked out all the unrelated system changes happening during the installation. In my opinion, the best MSIs are ones built from scratch, and that use as few Custom Actions as possible. When building my own MSIs I use Advanced Installer (and not Advanced Repackager), which has never failed to produce a hassle-free installer for me.

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    mlapworth (4th April 2010)

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    Thanks for your replies.

    Your answers to my questions are what I suspected to be the case (but I have to admit I was hoping you'd come back and say "yeah, that's fine - lots of software requires registration on the net"...). Having one installation type that registers via the net would make life much simpler for me, but I won't consider it for the UK if it's going to put people off buying it, obviously.

    I am not particularly au fait with installation methods, msi installers etc. I'm more involved with the program itself, and I use another 3rd party program to create the installer. I believe one of the issues with the current installer is that it can't be edited in any way - there's no access to the admin features of the msi. (Hope that makes sense..)

    On the site licence CD there are currently 3 installation options - an single exe installer; a file with an msi extension which seems to contain all of the compressed content for the installatioin; a silent msi option with a 525kb _data.msi file and a cab file containing the compressed content for the installation.
    (The single user and 10 user CDs only have the single exe installer, with the idea that they should be installed on each machine separately.)

    I receive emails every now and then asking me to provide installation instructions for an RMCC3 network (no other type of network seems to require anything extra). With my limited knowledge of all of this, I thought that one msi was much the same as any other...

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    The other issue you run into when installing software that requires activation is when you re-image machines because they're broken, or have been replaced etc. That then entails calls to licensing companies to get activations reset etc. which can be a real pain.

    My personal favurite way of dealing with this is an in-house license server that the program can check in with whenever its run to ensure its license is still valid, and you can delete machines from yourself. Our virus checker has a simelar thing, we load in a single key file which licenses the server for x number of machines, then the machines check in with the license server. If we go over, then the program can't be installed on any more machines until be buy more licenses or delete machines that are now redundant etc.

    Mike.

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    mlapworth (4th April 2010)

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    i would suggest any of my schools look elsewhere if every pc needed activating after every install leas filter is ridiculously strict dosent even always allow ms activation never mind a random 3rd party. And if it needs doing manually its a pain of a job and esp if i have to rebuild the odd pc likely to get forgotten

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    Perhaps having a server based section of the product in which you type in the serial key/activation key which is attained when you buy the product (based upon site licence / up to 100 licences etc.) and it creates an INI file for the application to go to, and does this once every 6 months.

    That way installations can be silent, and have it to point too the server INI file for registration details. Perhaps that would be a more efficient way of activating the program?
    Last edited by nephilim; 3rd April 2010 at 04:59 PM. Reason: fixed a few spelling errors

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    mlapworth (4th April 2010)

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    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    1) How many educational software titles require registration on each machine in the way outlined above?
    Thankfully only one. Our school purchased a site license for a certain media-related application and yet I have to visit each machine to install it and enter our registration details! Not only does this waste my time and needlessly makes my job more difficult, but it implies you don't trust your customers. If I buy a site license for something I expect to be able to install the software on every computer in the school with the minimum of fuss.

    The other thing that really annoys me about software like this, is that it makes it much harder for the students to actually use the software in the first place because it will only be installed on a very small number of computers which aren't always available because they are being used during other lessons. If the software is for teachers, even more time is wasted arranging for them to bring their laptop to us for the software to be installed manually. Something that should takes minutes, then becomes a task that takes days or weeks.

    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    2) How much would a system like this discourage a network manager from installing software which requires registration in this way? Is it the kind of thing which would encourage them to turn to the member of staff or department and say that, sorry, s/he is not able / prepared to install the software
    As AngryTechnician said, this would be a deal breaker for me too. I would tell the staff/department to look for an alternative first. If there absolutely isn't one, then I would recommend they do not waste the schools money on a site license since I will not be manually installing the software on > 550 computers.

    With the exception of the title above, all software at my school uses one of five methods.

    1) No registration information required at all.
    2) School name and serial number are set via MSI properties. This makes it easy to add them via a transform file (MST) or command-line.
    3) Installer looks for a license file in the same folder as the MSI (or EXE in some cases). 2D Design from TechSoft is a good example of this.
    4) Application reads registration details from the registry (usually HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Developer\NameOfApplic ation) or with some older software, an INI file located in the installation directory or Windows folder.
    5) Application contacts internal license server each time it is launched where it can verify the registration details. SWiSH Max and Sibelius use this method for concurrent licenses. The only disadvantage with this is that it prevents the software being used on staff laptops when they take them home.

    Any of those would be fine with me, although 2, 3 or 4 (in that order) would be preferable.
    Last edited by Arthur; 3rd April 2010 at 10:33 PM.

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    mlapworth (4th April 2010)

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    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    I believe one of the issues with the current installer is that it can't be edited in any way - there's no access to the admin features of the msi. (Hope that makes sense..)
    By admin features do you mean not being able to edit files within the MSI (like the tm.config file) or something else? I had a very quick look at your trial installer and there doesn't appear to be anything that needs changing by end-users.

    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    I receive e-mails every now and then asking me to provide installation instructions for an RMCC3 network (no other type of network seems to require anything extra). With my limited knowledge of all of this, I thought that one msi was much the same as any other...
    RM CC3 networks aren't really that much different from vanilla networks in terms of software installation. To make it as simple as possible you could do what RM do with a lot of their software and create a self-extracting EXE that copies the MSI, package.ini and shortcut(s) to the correct location on the Q:\ drive. All they would have to do then is update the package list via the RM Management Console and allocate the software to the computers that need it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    I sell a piece of software called TaskMagic. Installation currently does not require registration of any kind and it is possible to use a silent msi install to install it to all machines on a network (although not all schools are 100% happy with the msi in its current form).
    Our lot use your software. From an IT perspective the only real annoyance is the pointless default password that they can never remember.

    In response to your queries:

    1) None that we've bought. There's always an alternate piece of software.
    2) You'd lose sales. If your software required per-machine Internet registration I'd have vetoed the purchase and we'd have bought an alternate product. A manual process on hundreds of different machines makes your software too expensive to be worthwhile - the opportunity cost in technician time isn't worth it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arthur View Post
    By admin features do you mean not being able to edit files within the MSI (like the tm.config file) or something else? I had a very quick look at your trial installer and there doesn't appear to be anything that needs changing by end-users.
    You're right that there's nothing that needs changing for the trial version.

    The licensed version isn't very different, but it would be useful if the end user cold modify tm.config before installation - that way the end user could specify a network path to which to copy the registration details when the program is registered, and I could add code to the program asking it to look in tm.config for the path for registration details.

    This would mean that the software would only need to be registered once (following installation, and while connected to the internet) for all machines that are connected to the network. I'm presuming it isn't possible to modify the contents of tm.config, though. At least, I can't see how the end user can do this. But if they could, would that kind of registration work OK in schools, do you think?

    A separate issue is one of updates. At present, updating my software means replacing the existing exe files with new ones that can be downloaded from my website. I've been told that this is very difficult, as it either means copying manually to each machine or writing some kind of script. I spoke to someone who said that what they would like to be able to do is replace the exes from the CD installer with the new ones and then run the msi again (or somehting like that), but that they had no way of adding to or modifying the msi... I guess I could provide the updates as a new msi. Do you think tha would be preferable?

    "2) School name and serial number are set via MSI properties. This makes it easy to add them via a transform file (MST) or command-line."
    - I think that this is the kind of thing that isn't available in my current msi.
    Last edited by mlapworth; 4th April 2010 at 01:36 PM. Reason: ommission of final point

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    Quote Originally Posted by mlapworth View Post
    The licensed version isn't very different, but it would be useful if the end user cold modify tm.config before installation - that way the end user could specify a network path to which to copy the registration details when the program is registered, and I could add code to the program asking it to look in tm.config for the path for registration details.
    TechSoft 2D Design uses something similar to this. The registration details for the program are kept in a file outside the MSI (and not in a .cab file) but in the same directory, and it can be replaced with the correct details for the individual school without altering the MSI itself. In my experience it works well.

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    OK, so I've realised I can make an msi and keep all of the files and folders outside the msi, unpackaged, so that the whole thing can be copied to the end user's computer, modified as necessary and then installed. (I didn't know this was possible - - I told you I wasn't au fait with the installer side of things.)

    So how does this sound?

    1) An msi installer that performs a per machine installation.
    2) A configuration file that can be modified to include a network path to which all registration data will be saved. The default setting will be to require each computer to register while connected to the internet (so this is what would happen for example on a laptop not connected to the network), but if a network path is specified, the software need only be registered on the installation machine. The configuration file will tell the program where to store and look for registration information, so once this has been done once on the installation machine, subsequent launches of the program on other machines will look in the network location for registration information (which it will then copy to the local machine).
    3) If the CD is set up so that the user has full access to all of the files to be installed, presumably this means that the same msi can be used to perform updates, simply by replacing the existing ones on the CD with the most up-to-date versions.

    Would this work? Or am I missing some fundamental point?

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    Like everyone else here I seem to spend a ridiculous amount of time fighting, cajoling and coaxing programs to work on a network. It’s all too common for programs, which are otherwise very good, to have painful installation requirements.
    Some companies get it very right (autograph springs to mind) and have an excellent configuration program and an easy rollout; some get it very wrong (like rising-stars assessments).

    It’s good to see a developer doing some market research in this area.

    My best advice to you is to forget all the registration faff; all it will achieve is disgruntled network managers / IT techs.
    If you are collecting registration information to get usage data then just do it transparently in the background, if you are collecting it to protect your software – then fair play to you, but I think you’ll find that most of us will go out of our way to keep within a licence agreement at school.

    In terms of install configuration, if it will run from a unc share (a real one, eg, \\server\programs\languages\taskmagic) without requiring any form of write access, or if it has an msi and (optionally) a transform (with a custom editor ideally) then that’s about as easy and smooth as it gets and everybody will be happy



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