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HRD and Amateur Radio Software Ethos

You’d think Amateur Radio and FOSS devotees would be sympatico but, alas, most hams are appliance operators and this means Windows and commercial software.  That goes back to Bill Gates’ famous letter about piracy of his intellectual property and the evolution about software licensing, ownership, and business models. Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) just hit a controversy that highlights the situation. See Amateur radio fans drop the ham-mer on HRD’s license key ‘blacklist’ — “Remotely killing one customer’s copy was not an isolated incident, say readers.”

On Monday, The Register reported on the story of Jim Giercyk, an amateur radio enthusiast who had his copy of the popular Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) software revoked after posting a negative review.

Since our story was published, a number of Reg readers, including Giercyk himself and HRD’s makers, have followed up with us regarding claims that this was not an isolated incident and others may have had their license keys blacklisted for being publicly critical of the company. And just to be clear: by blackballing keys, installed copies of the software stop working.

HRD Software’s Dr Carper told us that while his company’s application does have a blacklist of license keys, the blocking mechanism is sometimes used to disable copies of the software once the buyer has asked for a refund. Thus, we’re told, it is difficult for HRD Software to know exactly how many keys have been cancelled for legit reasons or out of retaliation – it simply doesn’t know. Dr Carper added:

What has been made clear thus far is that HRD is a product that, while used by thousands within the amateur radio community, is distributed by a company seen by some as a bully. Hopefully, for the sake of HRD and ham operators alike, the developer can repair the rift and mend its ties with its userbase.

One thing is sure: the episode should be a lesson to any software maker that locks out users for being honest about its products online. It’s such a terrible strategy, guaranteed to backfire.

The Slashdot story has links to more discussion and comment on the story.