As sure as night follows day, the moment Sweden’s top music making software developer Propellerhead announces a new release, in this case Reason 6, the internet sees a rise in people afflicted with a bad case of the stupid and we (those of us in music making circles, anyway) get inundated with posts, messages and diatribe on two, very distinct and never changing subjects.
A week last Tuesday, those two ever present gems were joined by another equally tedious question.
When Record, Reason’s audio focused sibling, was released, it was the first Propellerhead product to be protected by a dongle, or as the Props call it, an Ignition Key. Until then, they had predominantly used a printed licence key. The product arrived with a credit card sized piece of plastic with which you unlocked the app once and then registered that licence directly with Propellerhead. Simple, unobtrusive and ever so easily cracked. Within days of a new Reason release, a cracked version would be available on-line. But still, Propellerhead still managed to carry on, selling enough units to stay in business and develop bigger and better products. I even heard tell once that one of their founders said of pirated copies of his software that he didn’t mind so much because the people who used those illegal versions probably wouldn’t have bought it at all in the first place and it was almost like a form of advertising or marketing. I’m not sure how true that story is, but I can certainly see the point behind it.
My experience with dongles dates back to the mid to late 90′s, when I first acquired my own copy of Cubase. Until then, I had used other people’s computers and sequencers or hardware. Inside the large blue box, apart from the CD-ROM’s and the hefty user manuals was a large dongle, designed to fit into the LPT port on your computer, with a socket on the end so you could still connect your printer.
You plugged it in, secured the screws, installed the software and off you went. Happy as Larry. It never once got in your way and you forgot it was even there. A few years later, with the advent of Cubase SX, they changed to a USB dongle. This worked in a similar way except it installed a tiny bit of software to authorise the dongle, but again, that was it. Plug it in, leave it there and get on with the business of making music.
As time wore on, dongles became increasingly popular with manufacturers and much less so with users. And at this point, I could understand many of the gripes. Behind all the irrational paranoia of some people claiming intrusions on their privacy and rights (what rights???), there was the real problem that back then, most computers only came with, at best, four USB ports, max. Plug in a printer, keyboard and mouse and that one remaining port became incredibly precious all of a sudden. If you were running Cubase and then bought a VST instrument that needed a dongle, you were screwed. Thankfully, USB hubs started to proliferate and become incredibly cheap and soon these concerns became things of the past. I say that, but laptop users weren’t so lucky. I mean, the whole point of a laptop is portability, but to then add a USB hub, especially one that might also need power and all of a sudden that lightweight studio set up isn’t so lightweight any more. But even so, hubs got smaller, some laptops even featured powered ports and there was probably a solution for most users out there. And eventually, a bit of common sense prevailed when manufacturers started using common dongle technology and the dongle manufacturers created dongles that could store multiple licences.
So, that’s the history. Dongles have been with us for years, and their increased usage can only suggest two things.
Face it, if dongles didn’t work, why are so many companies using them? No company is going to carry on doing something if their bottom line is suffering. That’s just not good business.
And so, a week ago, the angry brigade poured onto the forums en mass and now they had a new enemy. Reason 6 was announced and Reason 6 was going to use the Ignition Key, just like Record 1.5 had done so successfully. How do I know it’s a success? Go and find me a fully operational cracked copy of Record 1.5 that successfully eliminates the Ignition Key. And the people behind the Ignition Key, Wibu, can boast a claim not made by many protection systems. At the end of 2010, they offered 138 Chinese software developers, students, professors, and other high-tech gurus $15,000 dollars to crack their Codemeter system. They gave them four weeks to do it. Everyone went home empty handed
I rest my case.
Someone posited last week that the reason (excuse the pun) that Record hadn’t been cracked was because it was unpopular and no one wanted to crack it! Er, yeah, that’s why Reason 6 is, for all intents and purposes, Record but with the Reason name. So unsuccessful that Propellerheads have decided to make it its sole DAW product. Give me strength. I could, if I were so inclined, grab a gazillion quotes from these people, but trust me, go out and look on any electronic music forum, be it Propellerheads own forums of KvR or some such, you won’t be disappointed by the stupidity, idiocy and sheer ignorance of some people.
Vast swathes of people (although I reckon in the grand scheme of things, they represent a tiny percentage of legitimate users) are posting all kinds of paranoid rubbish and complaining that their rights have been infringed. Some even dismiss the very reason (excuse more puns, none intended) behind the dongles existence by saying they don’t care about the “pirates” who use cracked and illegal software, “but please don’t punish me for being loyal and trustworthy”.
I asked a question on the Propellerhead forum the other day, asking for someone, anyone to give me a rational explanation as to why dongles are so bad. I’m still waiting for a rational reply, but with irrational people, the last thing you will ever get is a rational argument. All I’ve had is wave after wave of “they don’t trust me anymore” or “dongles don’t work” or “They’re punishing legitimate users”. How can you expect a business to “trust” it’s users when some of it’s users fuck them over? How can you say dongles don’t work when they clearly do?! And dongles punish illegitimate users. For fucks sake, how hard is it now to plug a USB stick in and forget about it?
Some people are bemoaning the build quality of the dongle, saying it’s flimsy and breaks. Others say that should they lose the dongle, they’re screwed. And others say it impedes the live use of the application it is designed to protect. Allow me to retort. If the build quality is not good, the manufacturer should sort it under warranty. If you lose the dongle, apart from that being your own stupid fault, you can buy replacements for €30. If you are a professional musician, whose livelihood depends on you having a fully operational piece of equipment, you should have a redundancy plan. Do drummers go gigging without a spare set of sticks? Do guitarists go out without a spare set of plectrums or strings? Do vocalists go out without a spare mic or ego (sorry, I can’t help but have a dig at front men/women!)?
The answer is of course not. So why should you not have a spare Ignition Key? If it was €300, I’d understand, but €30 is nothing when considering lost earnings or credibility. Trust me, if I was gigging a laptop that needed a dongle, I’d have at least three. You can also buy secure USB hubs where you can keep all your precious dongles in one, lockable receptacle that comes with it’s own tether…
But failing that, Propellerhead have other options. No Ignition Key? That’s ok, because as a legitimate, registered user, you can activate your session on-line. Takes a few seconds. Job done. No internet connection? That’s covered as you can start the app in demo mode, have full functionality including saving, but you can’t open previously saved files or projects.
So there are options. I’ve had an Ignition Key for a year now. I forget I have it. It quietly protects my investment and the IP of Propellerhead. My music making is entirely unaffected and I can even install the software on to my laptop so that if inspiration strikes at work, and I have left my Ignition Key in the safety of my studio at home, I can authorise my session on-line and away I go.
Of course, we all use these apps for different things and we all have different modus operandi, but surely you assessed the viability of the product before paying for it? Surely you saw the chosen protection system and made a decision based on that? Much like the fools who continuously bang on about Reason not being able to host VST plug ins. Did you not read the box? Did you not read the thousands upon thousands of blog and forum posts that have quoted and reiterated the Propellerheads team who categorically shun plug ins, preferring a closed and infinitely more stable environment that has been successful for over 10 years??
I’m sorry, but why should any manufacturer who clearly states a product spec be held accountable for something an individual doesn’t particularly like? It’s a free market. You research your requirements, you research the available options and you make an informed choice.
And why oh why do these people feel the need to go on and on and on about it? Surely, if you don’t like something, go find something you DO like and get on with whatever it is you do! But oh no, this is the internet. Everyone has a voice and regardless of whether they are right or wrong, they’re gonna make sure we all hear them.
Well, this is my response to you. Shut up. Go and find something that DOES work for you, something that ticks all, or most, of your boxes. I went through a number of DAW’s before deciding that Reason/Record was the one for me. And when you’ve found the ideal tool, that is dongle free, VST compatible and has MIDI out, channel your energy into making some music, FFS!!! Leave those of us who don’t care about MIDI out (although this is achievable, after a fashion, using the ReWire protocol, connecting Reason to another, VST comaptible DAW… I favour Reaper) and those of us who don’t want or need VST’s (although this again can be addressed by using the ReWire protocol to connect to a VST host) or those of us for whom a dongle is completely worthwhile and utterly unintrusive. Go and find YOUR tool, as we have found ours.