The ability to run Surfulater from a USB Stick is something our users and I would like to see. It is easy to carry around your Knowledge Base files on a USB stick or even use them directly from a USB stick, but there are times when you are using someone else’s PC and want to use Surfulater. One way to accomplish thisÂ is to run it on the USB stick. However there are hurdles to overcome, primarily in respect to licensing and conversely piracy. We need to ensure that our customers can use their copy of Surfulater on a USB stick, but prevent unlicensed use, and that’s the difficult part.
To my knowledge only U3Â USB sticks provide the capabilities software developers need to adequately protect their software on USB sticks, however there is a reasonable amount of effort required to get your software working on U3 devices and I’ve read where some folks aren’t all that happy with the way U3 works and about it not working in some corporate environments. So I’ve shied away from this as a solution and have been looking at alternative ways of meeting the need to access Surfulater Knowledge Bases on differentÂ PC’s. For exampleÂ providing the ability to view KB’s in a Web Browser, without needing Surfulater installed at all. I’m also working on synchronization, which will make it a breeze to use the sameÂ KB’s at work and at home.
So what’s this aboutÂ MojoPac? My friend Leigh Wardle e-mailed me yesterday to tell me he had Surfulater running on a USB stick using a new product called MojoPac and my reaction was wow, followed by how! I couldn’t see how they could protect licensed software from being pirated by copying the MojoPac installation. I told Leigh of my concerns and he promptly e-mailed me back an excerpt from their Web site that indicated the software was protected by locking it to the serial number of the USB device, and therefore copying it to another USB stick wouldn’t work. I thought ok that sounds greatÂ I really need to give this thingÂ a try. Unfortunately it was downhill from there.
I duly registered on the MojoPac web site and downloaded the software. My first problem was that IÂ wasn’t able toÂ install it on my 1G Corsair Flash Voyager USB stick because it doesn’t have a serial number. That’s fine and good, as without a serial number they can’t provide the protection software developers need.
I tried another USB device and it worked a treat. Start it up and you get a clean, brand spanking new instance of Windows XP running. I have to tell you I was impressed, and still am.
Next I installed Surfulater and after a small hiccup it installed and ran perfectly. I exited MojoPac, moved the USB device to another PC and started it there and again it worked a treat. Next I activated the Surfulater license to get it from a Trial Version to a Full Version and did some more testing, which all went fine.
Then I movedÂ the USB driveÂ back to the original PC, started MojoPac and Surfulater andÂ SurfulaterÂ ran as a Free Trial when it should haveÂ been fully licensed! This is problem number one. In essence any software that uses protection techniques that check for various installed hardware will likely not work with MojoPac, as it stands. This is because a MojoPac system includes a mix of the underlying PC’s hardware plus its own emulated or virtual hardware. To resolve this the underlying hardware should not be visible in MojoPac. I think you’ll find a fair bit ofÂ commercial software won’t work, because of this. But things get worse.
I kept thinking that relying on aÂ serial number alone to protect MojoPac and all the licensed software installed therein couldn’t be adequate and it didn’t take long to prove that I was right.
I went back to my original Corsair USB stick (without a serial number) and installed a virtual drive. This looks to Windows like a real drive and includes a serial number. MojoPac installed and ran fine on this, and my initial reaction was great. But then reality set in. I can copy this virtual drive to another USB stick or hard drive, or post it on the Internet for others to use, and MojoPac works.
This means that MojoPac itself is easy to copy (pirate) and use without paying for it, but the far bigger problem for me as a commercial software developer, is that it makes my software just as easy to copy and use for free. Surfulater won’t run on a different hardware configuration as I mentioned above, which is a MojoPac failing they need to resolve, but other licensed software I tried works perfectly.
I really don’t want to rain on their parade as I see MojoPac has great potential if these issues can be resolved, but my feeling is that the underlying issues will be difficult to fix. The MojoPac Web site tells us they’ve got some very clever people working there and they are nicely cashed up with VC Funds, so resources shouldn’t be a problem (yeah I’m jealous I know). As things stand right now they need to take some urgent action before they get into serious hot water. If it were my product I’d remove it from the market untiil I could address these issues.
There also seems to be discontentment brewingÂ over on the MojoPac Support Forums, with company representatives AWOL. Hopefully they’ll return soon.