Momentarily less sympathy for, yes, Microsoft

Microsoft's OneNote is a great little product. I know, like, and once worked at Microsoft alongside Chris Pratley, who led its development inside the company. I know, like, and have praised in public the elegance of OneNote's design and its overall usefulness.

I've been using the beta version of OneNote 2007 for a couple of months, and the time has come to pony up for the real, bona fide, for-release version. No problem: the $79.95 upgrade price is a relative bargain. (Yes, I could get it for under $1 on the street here in Shanghai, but, as noted earlier, That Would Be Wrong.) So I use the Help/Activate command from inside the program, and what do I find?

First, the online purchase program will not work with Firefox.

Or at least it didn't the five straight times I tried it. It doesn't come out and say so, but it seems -- for me -- to work only with Microsoft's IE browser. Puh-leeeze. This seems like a junior-high-school prank from the bad old dirty-tricks days of the early 1990s. Back then, Windows 3.1 would give you a bogus but scary warning message that you were endangering your computer if it detected that you were running rival software, like Digital Research's DR-DOS. Those days are past, right?

Second, by default, and a very persistent default, the online purchase tries to talk you into buying a ~$10 "insurance" program that will let you download the program again within the next three years if you buy a new computer and need to re-install the program. What??? I buy another computer and I have to re-buy the programs (even at a discount)? This is either a false warning, or a true warning that reflects badly on the software makers -- perhaps both! It's false in that, if you go through the nuisance of writing down all your "25 digit Product ID" codes and -- gasp -- keeping the installation CDs (or downloaded installation files), you can reinstall your programs on a new computer. To the extent the warning is true, it's a sign of something basically wrong with the software industry if a function as routine and inescapable as going from one machine to another should be so hard and complex.

No high-concept policy recommendation here: just a mild user grumble. And, yes, I'm still sympathetic with Microsoft and other software makers about the completely unfettered market in pirated software here.

(Update: Chris Pratley reports, via his blog, that these are the policies of the subcontractor that handles online sales, not Microsoft itself. OK. But -- just speculating here -- conceivably Microsoft is in a position to tell the contractor how to behave?)