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Cerilica spam headache keeps Vantage users waiting

By Chris Williams. Published: 22nd Dec 2003, 14:43:32 | Permalink | Printable

Patience is a necessity, not a virtue

Vantage logoIf you're a Cerilica Vantage user and you're still waiting for your copy of Vantage to be registered and activated, then maybe we can help shed some light.

Currently, under a recently introduced copy-protection scheme, once a copy of Cerilica's flagship graphics package Vantage is installed, the user must request an activation key from Cerilica. Without a satisfactory key, the software will refuse to run after about 14 days. If the user upgrades to a new computer, Vantage will require re-activation. Users are therefore reliant on a quick response from Cerilica when an activation key is requested, and also reliant on Cerilica's continued existance.

Last week, drobe.co.uk heard from Arthur Quinn, a Cerilica customer who purchased Vantage in November 2002 while at the Guildford show. He's still awaiting an activation key from Cerilica. He's also considering court action in order to get a refund.

"The licensing system at that time involved only the so-called 'Cerilikey', which I considered sufficiently unrestrictive to make the purchase viable", Arthur commented to us.

"The [Vantage] purchase was made on the clear understanding that the program was to be upgraded; indeed, once I came to use it, it became clear that upgrading was necessary even to make the program behave as described in the manual."

In November this year, Arthur received an update to the Vantage software, which also included the new more restrictive anti-piracy scheme. Arthur decided he was "essentially powerless" in the face of the new protection system and installed the upgrade. He then emailed Cerilica on November 4th to request an activation key.

"I received no reply, nor have I received a reply to 10 subsequent emails, the last on 13 December. The upgraded !Vantage now refuses to work", Arthur continued. Earlier in the year, Arthur had also repeatedly tried to notify Cerilica of a change in email address, but according to Arthur, this "had not been acted upon".

"!Vantage can no longer be considered as a serious piece of software. Any work produced using it will be lost if !Vantage is no longer available and the new copy protection is designed to prevent the software from being moved to another machine, unless Cerilica are involved.

"Given the observed behaviour of Cerilica, this means that any work produced with !Vantage could end up being tied to a single computer. If that computer should fail, it would be impossible to move the work to another or at least could involve a delay of many weeks while trying to get a reply from Cerilica."

We caught up with Cerilica's Simon Birtwistle over the weekend to find out what the problem was.

"We're having terrible problems with the Cerilica email account. We have been getting over 1MB of spam a day for the last two months, much of which are bounced spams as cerilica.com has been used as a spoof return-to address", Simon explained in response.

"Though a set of draconian filters has reduced this to manageable proportions it seems that they have been eating legitimate emails too, which is not good."

Cerilica have set up a new email account that isn't under attack from spam and over zealous filters and have asked users who are having difficulties contacting Cerilica to try the new address. The new contact address is presented below as an image to defeat spam bots:
image of new cerilica address

Simon also stated that he will be announcing details of a new PO box, which "will alleviate the communication difficulties until the spam attack subsides".

It's certainly a shame when RISC OS developers are seriously threatended by piracy, especially when legitimite users are penalised by such fierce anti-copying protections. It illustrates perfectly how piracy harms developers and users alike, as well as highlighting the fragile nature of Cerilica's key request system.


Cerilica website

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1mb of spam per day is nothing! Thats 6-7 of those Microsoft network patch mails (@ 140k or so each) I was getting about 500 of those per day at their peak and I know other people were getting even more.

Perhaps 1mb is a spelling mistake or something.


 is a RISC OS UserThe Doctor on 22/12/03 3:29PM
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Next time you catch up with Simon, perhaps you can ask about the 32 bit version? When is that going to be released?

Anyway, happy Christmas to the Drobe team. Always a good read:-)

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 22/12/03 4:31PM
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to doctor.

yep 1Mb is nothing if it is simply a bunch of MS updates and they are say 30-100K, however, if they are mail bounces and about 1K then that is 1000ish emails. :-)

All the best and happy Christmas Bob from armbase

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 22/12/03 5:18PM
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Somethign tells me that this is a case for the new anti-spam laws that are / have come into action!

I have now blocked MSN, Hotmail, and microsoft from sending me mail, via the use of their own Outlook 2003 :P take that microgrot!

Happy Christmas One and all! :D <:)

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 22/12/03 5:45PM
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It's Joe Jobs from viruses.

Basically a spammer (or trojan) uses random addresses at your domain name as the From addresses, and then sends the spam to a load of randomly generated addresses @aol.com, most of which don't exist, so bounce back to you (or have their mailboxes full of "MS updates" so bounce as well).

Although this usually only happens for a week or so, or you can just block bounce messages, or Mailer-Daemon@aol.com etc.

If you're at all sensible you'd have a specific address for registrations and not just use support@ or email@. Unless you're doing your hosting on the cheap, 1Mb of spam a day should not bring a company Email down since Nov. 02!

I worry about copy protection like this too, as what happens when you've corrupted your install or your computer dies, and the company has gone bust without publishing a method to retrieve your files or unlock the software? This is a big problem for relying on closed-source and especially protected software. Mind you, copy-protection is pointless anyway as someone will always find a way.....

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 22/12/03 6:21PM
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Hmmm, I take your point Bob. Cheers!

 is a RISC OS UserThe Doctor on 22/12/03 6:25PM
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Something I can't help but notice about the Cerlica system - it's identical to the Sibelius system. However, Sibelius got it right - they have a hotline phone number manned most of the day. If Cerlica considered doing these activations by phone then they wouldn't be able to blame it on spam. If they are going to copy a system like this, they should at least do it properly. It's very disapointing seeing as Vantage is such an impressive piece of software. -- Smiler - :D elp_blackmoon@hotmail.com

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 22/12/03 8:35PM
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Can't see any point in elaborate copy protection schemes at all. They don't prevent those capable from hacking them from doing so, and they seriously upset legitimate customers. CC removed the dongle from Impression without damaging sales, and at a time when a larger market was more likely to throw up piracy. Sibelius still have to carry a support load for RISC OS product because of the installed base. ANd, of course, drobe are confusing antipiracy measures with piracy. Piracy is not doing any threatening in this instance, Cerilica's system of licensing is.

 is a RISC OS Usermikeg on 23/12/03 7:48AM
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Anyone remember dongles ? (A piece of hardware that plugged into the back of the computer to enable the software to work) What a nightmare; in school the kids snapped them off, they pushed the machines another 3 inches out from the wall... Talk about turkey .... I think the price of non-games software should be modest and include registration as a user from which a newsletter and regular updates and bug fixes are cheeply available. If the software is any good users will, if encouraged, want to keep up to date. The view for developers to take is the long term one generating a regular income and getting a large use-base established rather than asking for a big investment up front. Games, of course, are very different and, in general, have a much shorter life span. It is a shame that we now have so much old software around that cannot be used on new machines because of the piracy protection around it rather than the code inside.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 23/12/03 9:00AM
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The Sibelius systems works to a point - friday, they all seem to go home on thursday, so when I arrived for my part time job at my local school (Fridays only) I never got anywhere with installing the 200 Copies I had.

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 24/12/03 11:00AM
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I can accept copy protection even when it requires me to register. What I do consider a pain in the a... is the rediculous period of just 14 days for Vantage, or even worse in case of VirtualRPC-SE which has to be registered *before* I can even use it but has to be *installed* for registration. Poor blokes who get such a product for X-Mas.

They ought to offer at least a temporary registration via Webinterface or the like and let me use what I paid for based on that for a reasonable time span (say 30 days) so that I don't buy and then have to sit and wait until I can use the product, or it ceases to work before registration is done. I should assume that within 30 days my registration can and will be checked and confirmed by the company issuing the product allowing for holidays, illness and such reasons for unavailability.

But even more rediculous is the need for re-registration in case I move the registered product to a new hardware due to e.g. buying a new machine or due to a replacement. If this is the case for a product which won't work without re-registration, or just for a few days chances are close to zero for me to buy such a piece of software. Murphy will make sure that your hardware will break down during a time when re-registration is impossible due to holiday, vacation, illness, company having disappeared, but you need the software just then. Then I rather make sure I don't need it to start with!

Aemulor shows how online registration can be done and thus I was happy to go for it.

Furthermore the above artifact does show that SPAM filtering is something which has to be set up sensibly (i.e. reading the docs and really acting accordingly) to avoid deleting wanted mail. Just 1MB mail is not that much so that it should not have been deleted but downloaded and the SPAM put into some folder for inspection.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 27/12/03 5:50PM
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The more you restrict the software the better the pirate version looks. Do the programmers actually believe their system won't be cracked?

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 27/12/03 7:50PM
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In reply to mavhc: I guess they believe so and I think they do prevent the normal user to pass the software on to a friend or the like. But sometimes the copy protection is a hassle for the legitimate user and then they have to consider if the cut in sales to to users not accepting that hassle is less than the loss in sales due to having a more user-friendly copy protection.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 28/12/03 2:12PM
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I'd want a guarentee that if the company stopped supporting registration for some reason, like they stopped selling it or went bankrupt, they'd release code to unprotect it.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 28/12/03 3:06PM
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To havhc:

Yes, that guarantee is a good idea - problem might be when the copy protection relies on some hardware features of the old system so that unprotecting is a problem. But a company advertising just that guarantee would be better off ... assuming that in case of bankrupcy or the like they still have the power and perhaps the needed permission to fulfill guarantee.

I think the best kind of copy protection is still to offer a good product at a reasonable price with the owner shown in the startup banner/info box. If the program is good and worth the money then more users are prepared to buy it.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 30/12/03 2:26PM
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I sent a query to the new Cerilica email address on the 23rd of December, basically asking what arrangements and procedures are in place to protect customers if Cerilica fails and also why an existing customer should be required to accept a new and obviously precarious licensing regime. I have received no reply so far, so I have just resent the message.

 is a RISC OS Useraquin43 on 3/1/04 1:42PM
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