I just had an interesting experience with some exam preparation software that I bought a couple years ago for the PMP certification from Rita Mulcahy. According to the installer, the software license had expired !

I took a class to prepare for a certification exam, and bought a bundle that included an exam simulation called PM FastTrack for PMP.

I was only slightly annoyed that I had to be connected to the internet to install it: lots of software has started following the annoying activation model. The license says the software can be installed on (1) work computer and (1) home computer, so they have to manage the count some how.

Anyway, at the end of my class, I got on one of those gigs that sucks all of your free time out, and didn’t have a chance to finish my studying and simply didn’t think about the software. Top that off with the fact that I’ve been running it all in virtual machines that I tend to have to rebuild, and I end up not uninstalling the software from somewhere I don’t have access to any more.

Time goes by, and here it is almost two years later, and I try to install the software (I’ve long since reimaged my machine, so it’s time to try again). First I get several annoying messages that tell me to change things that make no sense (control panel change to get the date format right) and another that says to download a new version of the software.

Finally I get to a screen that tells me to contact support. This ends up with me downloading a new version of the software, which then tells me that the license key has been installed too many times, so I call support (which of course is closed) and leave a message.

I get back this email that says:

Rob,
I received your voicemail. You first installed the software on January 28, 2006. There is a one year term of use from the date of the first installation according to the license agreement. Your license has expired. If you would like to use the FASTrack software, you would need to purchase a new license.

Well, first I was surprised it had been that long, but second I was more than a little irritated. I looked all over the CD case, and could find nowhere that it said the software was only good for a year, only that it is limited to two computers (I even scanned the case and sent that to them).

It feels a bit like my experience with renting a movie from the iTunes store: I rented the movie, started watching it on the plane, and then by the time I got to watch the end of it, it had expired. They gave me a one time refund on the transaction so with the exception of my having to rent the movie a second time to see the end, it was a positive experience.

Now I understand that for software that helps you pass an exam, they want to make sure you’re using a new copy, but shouldn’t I be able to use it regardless of whether it is outdated or not?

I’ve recommended this software to others in the past, and probably generated more than a few sales for them. From a sales perspective, it seems like they should want me to continue that, and perhaps buy the next version of the software when it comes out.

But repeated phone calls, and emails, and no response. If I had to guess, I’d say they feel they have a locked in market, so they don’t have to try to be good about this.

Guess maybe it’s time to build a competitor product, I’m sure I could build a web based Q&A that would do as well for less than $299 a year.

And now I find the license info on their web site (not on my CD) which does have the notice about only working for a year after initial install here. They even have some verbiage about paying $75 to extend the license for three additional months, but that apparently doesn’t apply except for the 3 months immediately following the install.

So apparently, my choices are to either buy a new copy of the software (which will be no good in a couple of months since the test is changing), wait for the new software (which won’t be out until the end of this quarter), simply do without.

I’m just glad they didn’t print the book and flash cards with ink that fades away over time. Not a great way to operate a business if you ask me, but I guess I never had that sort of monopoly.