The Quicktime Pro key trap

I’ve had my new PowerBook for a couple of months now, but I haven’t been blogging much about it. Not because I haven’t had anything to say, but just because I’ve been too busy. However, quite recently, especially because of the new release of Tiger (or rather than it has been “unleashed”– grr!), I have been once again reminded that no matter how much we want to think of Apple as our knight in shining armor, they’re just as bad as the next guy when it comes to software licensing schemes at least.

Case in point: I recently gave in and decided to buy Quicktime Pro for my Mac. (I think I actually bought it before, but in the great hard drive crash of Memorial Day Weekend 2004, my license key was lost forever and for some reason, I could not get it from Apple). In any case, I bought QT Pro for my new Mac on April 24th. (When I had previously purchased it, I had purchased it for Windows– yeah, that’s right, you have to buy separate license keys for Windows and Mac.) Now, I realized that Tiger was coming out on April 29th, but just because it was, I didn’t think that A) a new version of QT would also be released and, more importantly, B) my QT Pro registration key would not work with future versions of QT.

Obviously, I was sorely mistaken. I was still running Panther since I didn’t pre-order, did not bother going to the Apple release party on campus and wasn’t willing to stand in the line that literally went down along University Avenue in Palo Alto. (Seriously, people: it’s just an operating system. Calm down.) So the way I realized that there was a new version of QT was when Software Update automatically prompted me to download and install. Assuming (albeit incorrectly) that my recently purchased pro registration key would work with the newer version and wanting to see if QT 7 is better than 6, I downloaded and installed right away.

But I again mistakenly assumed that it would retain my previously entered registration information, which it did not, and when I did provide the registration key, it no longer worked on QT 7. So, $29.99 to legitimately purchase a QT Pro license and four days later, I can’t use it anymore because they’ve forced QT 7 on me.

Okay, so maybe I was naive to think that the license I purchased would work on the newer version as well since QT has always had this idea of “free upgrades.” So, in my mind, that means, if I have a free upgrade on QT from 6 to 7, that should hold true for QT Pro from 6 to 7, right? I mean, we’re the people who paid the $29.99 in the first place– at least you could hook us up with the upgrade, especially when you release a new version four days later, couldn’t you?

But in looking at the Quicktime Pro FAQ, it says:

I already have QuickTime 6. Can I upgrade to QuickTime 7 for free?
Upgrades to QuickTime 7 Player are free. Upgrades to QuickTime 7 Pro are $29.99.

Which is all just misleading since there is no difference in the software delivered in QT and QT Pro. They’re the same piece of software with the same set of features and functionality– all “QuickTime Pro” means is that you purchased a registration key that will now “unlock” those “Pro” features. That’s not really paying for an upgrade then. That’s paying for another key. When you really do look closely at the item description on your receipt, you see that you are buying a QT6 Pro Key, not just a QT Pro Key and therefore, for the rest of time, they will be able to make you pay for a new key every single time they decide to push out another version of QT (especially since you can’t run two different instances of QT on the same machine– i.e., you can’t run QT 6 PRO and QT 7 on the same computer, a note straight from the FAQ).

Obviously, this whole thing annoyed me as I hoped to convert some videos the other day and fell into this pit of hell. So I thought, let’s make this an experiment: let’s just see how willing Apple is to step up to the plate and be fair (or at least provide some nice customer service). So, on April 30th, I sent them the following email:

I ordered a Quicktime Pro key for Mac OS X on April 24. Now, only 6 days later, Apple pushes out the newest version of Quicktime (7) via Software Update and now my key doesn’t work anymore. At the time of the purchase, had I been told the key was not going to work on a newer version and that the newer version would be out within days, I would not have purchased. I would like a refund or a new key that will work with Quicktime 7.

Surprisingly enough, they did in fact respond within a day or two:

After careful consideration of your request, we would like to offer you a one-time exception to our standard returns policy.

A credit in the amount of $29.99 for the QuickTime Pro key you purchased will be credited to your account within five business days. Please contact your credit card company if you have questions about when the credit will be posted.

You may find it helpful to read Apple’s Sales and Returns Policy. To do so please visit:
http://store.apple.com/Catalog/US/Images/salespolicies.html.

So, of course, I went and read their Sales and Returns Policy. It explicitly says in one section:

Please note that Apple does not permit the return of or offer refunds for the following products:

  1. Product that is custom configured to your specifications
  2. Opened memory
  3. Opened software*
  4. Electronic software downloads
  5. Personalized iPods
  6. Software Up to Date Program Products (SW upgrades)

The QT Pro key doesn’t really fall into any of those categories (maybe “Electronic software downloads”), but they seem to treat QT Pro keys different anyway in a special section:

QuickTime Pro Keys
You can purchase a QuickTime Pro Key at the Apple Store using a valid Apple Store account. At the time of checkout, we will obtain an authorization from the credit card you provide. Once credit card authorization is received, you will receive an email notification that includes installation instructions and a Key code.

So, there’s no real information available here to tell me that they don’t give refunds for QT Pro Keys since my refund is a special “one-time only exception,” but the fact that they have a special section addressing QT Pro keys makes me feel like they know they’re pulling a scam here. Of course, since this whole QT incident and the release of Tiger (which I have since purchased, installed, and actually really like), I’ve seen the “your Quicktime 6 Pro key will not work” message all over the place. Maybe I missed it the first time or maybe they’ve made it a lot clearer since the release of QT 7 and Tiger.

On one hand, the licensing setup is a small, but perhaps overlooked example that Apple’s licensing agreements, or business tactics in general, aren’t that much better or more altruistic than any other “software giants.” You have to upgrade to QT Pro to do simple things like export movies to the QT format in the first place or even play movies full screen (a new limitation of version 7), both of which are free in Windows Media Player (including the free media encoder available from Microsoft). I mean, if you want to promote your “native” file format among both Mac and PC users, why not give people a free converter? Especially on your own stupid platform? (I mean, that one seems like a no-brainer to me.) Why not make it easier to deliver content in QT so that Mac users don’t feel left out– or rather, have to separately install Microsoft software to be included? Last week, I seriously considered switching to my Mac as my primary personal machine, but I pulled out in the end because one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past few months as I use a Mac more and more is that it sucks sometimes to be on the minority platform. So, why do they insist on essentially making it easier to ostracize Mac users by making it more difficult to deliver content natively for both platforms? Aside from not being a very smart business strategy in improving market penetration, it feels like the QT Pro key trap only punishes the people who want to do things that, in the end, promote Apple and MacOS.

Many have gotten lulled into this idea that just because Apple has been the underdog, it makes them smarter or better people, but they have just as much, if not more, interest in protecting what few assets they have, no matter what the cost. (I need not remind you of all of the lawsuits in which Apple is currently involved.) And in my mind, Apple has recently been more concerned with converting users rather than making existing users happy– the latter promoting a committment to backwards compatibility and less restrictive upgrade structures, something Apple hasn’t necessarily been better about than anyone else.

On the other hand, I like the idea that, albeit on a “one-time only exception,” Apple was kind enough to refund me the money– especially since I’m a long-time Windows user who recently bought a Mac and have been making a concerted effort to give the “other platform” a chance. Moreover, I, along with my coworkers, have generally tried to be platform agnostic and in truth, have been larger than usual proponents of Macs on campus and Mac use among students (we have a whopping 20-25% of students owning a Mac) and in general, the education market and Stanford specifically have had a traditionally close and positive relationship. Did they take any of this into account while deciding on my reund? Most definitely not unless the folks at Apple have nothing to do but to stalk my OS choices and buying habits. Maybe with less than 5% of the market, they have time to just have a guy answer annoyed emails about QT Pro keys, but it was a stroke of luck in making this faceless individual user a little happier (or a little less dissatisfied) with Apple.