PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in March 2002, contributed by then Editor-in-Chief Rip Rowan. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
I was asked last year to review the new 3.0 version of Waves Native Gold Bundle. Anyone familiar with my work knows that I am a vehement advocate of Waves’ products, and have used Waves tools on virtually every project I have ever done for the last five years. Of course I offered to do the review, and I figured it’d be easy. After all, how hard is it to review a product you love?
Waves Native Gold bundle offers a huge host of great processors, including EQ, compression, reverb, chorus, flange, dithering, and the highly acclaimed L1+ Ultramaximizer limiter. These plugins run the gamut from the practical – such as the surgical Q10 EQ – to the utterly zany – such as the totally wacked-out Enigma.
The new version 3 processors sport a pretty new user interface, which gives them a nice, 3D look as opposed to the tired, flat, sterile look and feel of the previous versions of plug-ins. Many of the processors have been optimized to offer superior performance versus the previous versions when used on modern CPUs offering SSE extensions.
And of course, there’s the sound. Waves has a reputation for offering first-class sound, and the Native Gold Bundle delivers the sonic goods. These plugins sound great – surgical EQ, robust vintage compression, superior stereo image manipulation, fantastic “tape-style” flanging, convincing, spacious reverb, near-invisible limiting.
I could go on and on about the Waves sound.
But I won’t.
Because although this is a first-rate bundle of world-class plugins, that’s not the real story here. The real story is more subtle, more painful, and likely to make me the audio community’s Number One Sonofabitch.
The real story is copy protection.
The Real Story
For years, Waves used a dongle as its mode of copy protection. Waves’ dongle was a device that fits onto the parallel port of the computer. The dongle has a chip in it that carries a serial number. You can copy the software all you want, but if you don’t have a dongle, it won’t run.
There were two problems with the dongle. The first problem was that it did not provide adequate copy protection. Cracked versions of Waves plugins were widely available on the net for years. The second problem was that it was intrusive. Suppose all of my software titles came with dongles? I would have a four-foot long chain of dongles sticking off the back of my computer, and of course they wouldn’t all work together.
ProRec has always stood behind Waves software (because it is brilliant) while exhorting them to get rid of the dongle (because it is intrusive). In the Native Gold Bundle version 3, Waves left the dongle for a new form of copy protection known as Pace Interlok (http://www.paceap.com).
About Copy Protection
Now let’s get one thing straight. I am all-for responsible copy protection. I own licenses for every piece of software I use. I do not advocate sharing software nor do I rip CDs or use Napster. I am the software development community’s Poster Child for Responsible Software Use.
Because people illegally steal and share software, companies are entitled to take steps to make it difficult or impossible to steal their software. That’s OK in my book. But copy protection must be responsible! Let’s take a look at what it means to employ responsible copy protection.
Responsible copy protection is:
- Unintrusive. Copy protection schemes that employ invasive procedures are irresponsible.
- Interoperable. Copy protection schemes that are not compatible with standard operating systems or other common applications should be avoided.
- Stable. Copy protection must not jeopardize the stability of the operating platform or application software.
- Cost-effective. If a company spends all of its time supporting the copy protection, then it is quite conceivable that the cost to support the copy protection will quickly exceed the cost of piracy.
- Available. Copy-protection that requires the user to have their software “turned on” by the vendor leaves them exposed to prolonged periods of downtime.
- Effective! At the end of the day, if people are still stealing the software, then what was the point?
As we will see, Waves Native Gold Bundle version 3.2 fails miserably on all six counts.
Responsible software developers know that appropriate software development techniques are the foundation that the development industry is based on. When a software developer works “outside the system” – for example, writing directly to a hard drive without going through the operating system – that developer places the user’s machine in serious jeopardy.
Developers know that they cannot forsee all possible circumstances. Today’s computers are massively interoperable. The modern DAW has thousands of software components working in harmony to create an amazing virtual machine. In order for an application to “play fair”, software must be coded according to certain rules.
In my opinion, PACE Interlok disregards these application development rules, placing your machine at a serious risk. For one thing, my suspicion is that Interlok places its software keys on your hard disk in a way that bypasses the operating system. Any time an application bypasses the operating system when working with a hard disk, there is a huge potential for failure. What if some other application or data – or even a new operating system component – exists in that space on the drive?
Moreover, based on my experience, Interlok appears to work outside the scope of the operating system, and is capable of actually rebooting your computer during normal operation. Yes, you heard me correctly. PACE Interlok can immediately reboot your computer while you are using it. The effect is as if someone hit the reset switch on the PC. Besides being a very frustrating crash, there is the very real potential for damage to your PC, especially with advanced operating systems like Windows 2000 and XP.
Software developers should be able to look at this behavior and immediately appreciate that something terribly wrong is going on beneath the covers and without permission of the operating system. No responsible piece of software would ever exhibit such behavior. Isn’t it a pity that such intrusive code was introduced to such a benign application as an audio plugin?
Experienced computer users appreciate the real risk of such an occurrence. I am sad to say, since I have used Waves Native Gold Bundle version 3.2 with PACE Interlok, I have experienced such problems dozens if not hundreds of times, with disastrous consequences including lost data, corrupt files, and corrupt disks.
Surely one of the more appealing aspects of PACE Interlok for the software developer is that it offers a “Try It!” feature. Once downloaded and installed, a PACE Interlok-protected application will function for 14 days, after which it must be either uninstalled or authorized. This allows potential users to download the plugins to try out for two weeks, after which they must either pay up, or stop using the software.
My experience with this functionality was less than exciting.
After installing Native Gold Bundle for the first time, I ran across a promotional for Waves’ new Renaissance Vox processor. Surfing over to the Waves web site I found a free, downloadable trial version. Excited by the opportunity to hear and use this new plug-in I quickly installed it on my PC.
At the end of two weeks I was informed that my trial period had expired and I needed to authorize the plugin. I wasn’t ready to buy it, so I decided to uninstall it.
Can you guess what happened? Sure you can. I lost my authorization for the Native Gold Bundle and had to reauthorize it.
One would think that I would have learned from this mistake, but I am not so smart. A few weeks later I wanted to check out the new version of Antares Autotune. Autotune, it turns out, also uses PACE Interlok, and after I uninstalled it, I again had to reauthorize the Native Gold Bundle.
My experience is clear: products protected by PACE Interlok are incompatible with one another such that uninstalling one can deactivate the others. It’s a shame when an application will not play fair and interoperate with other applications. It’s ridiculous when it will not interoperate with itself.
It is well-known in the pro audio community that Waves Native Gold Bundle – indeed, any product employing PACE Interlok Anti-Piracy software – is not stable. As you can see in the video, the problems can occur over and over again. As with most computer crashes, they occur at times of most critical need. Usually when clients are in the room.
Nothing tells a client that their project is in capable hands like watching the computer spontaneously reboot five times in a row. Yes, sir. That’s the mark of confidence.
In order to weed out the possibility of a machine-specific problem I have installed the Waves Native Gold Bundle on three different PCs running three different operating systems and two different soundcards, for a total of six completely different environments.
In every case I have experienced this problem. Here’s a quick rundown of the systems I tested on.
Machine 1: ProRec Roll Your Own 2000 with ABIT BH6 motherboard, 566 MHz Celeron processor, 128 MB RAM, 20 GB OS disk, 20 GB data disk, M-Audio Delta 1010 soundcard. Running Windows 98SE, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.
Machine 2: SoundChaser GigaDAW with ASUS P2B motherboard, 850 MHz PIII, 256 MB RAM, 20 GB OS disk, 60 GB data disk, and MOTU 1224 soundcard. Running Windows 98SE.
Machine 3: ProRec Roll Your Own Thunderbird with Iwill KK266+ motherboard, 1400 MHz Athlon processor, 512 MB RAM, 60 GB OS disk, 60 GB data disk, MOTU 1224 soundcard. Running Windows 2000 and Windows XP.
But of course I am not the only person who has experienced this problem. An informal polling of the ProRec Editors staff revealed that almost every respondent either had the problem that I am describing, or refused to install PACE Interlok-protected products on their PC altogether. A similar poll of the ProRec discussion forum revealed a large number of readers who had given up on this product completely, or who had decided to install the pirated version instead. And my experience with Waves technical support indicated clearly to me that this is a problem that they are all too familiar with and plenty tired of dealing with.
Professional audio producers, engineers, composers, and musicians know that ours is not a nine-to-five business. Music is a 7/24 business, with excruciating deadlines and long periods of sometimes extremely long hours.
Therefore, when a software copy protection technique requires me to communicate with a company’s support department in order to “activate” my software, I am always at risk for deadline-missing downtime.
Disks crash. Computers fry. Software scrambles. These are facts of life. In mission-critical environments, the ability to recover immediately from a failure is considered a requirement, not a luxury. And few applications are capable of such machine-punishing demands as audio and video production.
Too bad for Waves users. Because if something happens, and you are forced to reinstall, the reauthorization process usually takes at least a day. Sometimes several, depending on the holiday schedule.
And what a reauthorization process! As a licensed Waves user, I am required to:
- Log into the Waves web site. This assumes that I have already registered and remember my password. If not, then more valuable time is lost.
- Initiate a request for reauthorization.
- Provide a written REASON why I need a new authorization code.
- Print off the authorization request (you do have a printer connected to your audio workstation, don’t you?)
- SIGN (yes, SIGN) the printed request and date it
- Fax the request back to Waves
- Log back into the Waves site later
- See if the authorization has been approved
- Repeat steps 7-9 until the authorization has been approved
- Take my authorization code and enter it into the PACE Interlok Challenge-Response system
- Hope that Interlok doesn’t crash, because if it does, I will have to start over again at step one and request a new authorization (this happened to me twice).
All told, I lost at least a full weeks worth of work just waiting for authorization codes last year (that’s Step 7). That amounts to a direct cost to me of over $2000 just for the time spent waiting on authorizations – not counting all of the time troubleshooting, rebooting, reinstalling, etc..
The worst part is what happens if Waves goes out of business. Then who will reauthorize my plugins? If anything ever goes wrong, I won’t be able to recover my work. One crash, and I lose all of my plugins, never to return. Mixes that I have taken painstaking hours perfecting will be effectively eradicated.
In the end, copy protection isn’t employed to make users more moral. It is employed to make the software company more money.
If the company spends enough time and effort supporting the copy protection scheme and the problems it causes the paying user, then eventually the cost of support plus lost sales becomes greater than the cost of the piracy the company is trying to suppress.
I am not a gambling man, but I would bet real money that Waves has lost a lot of money on PACE Interlok. Especially when you add in the intangible cost of lost goodwill from angry former users.
Of course I have no real data to back this up, and I wouldn’t expect Waves to support my assertions. But I do have abundant personal experience here as well as the corroborating evidence of a number of ProRec Editors – folks who I hold to be the real experts in PC-based Digital Audio Workstations.
One thing that my research pointed out is that many users who are experiencing this problem are completely unaware that it is their PACE Interlok-protected plugins that are causing the spontaneous reboots. Apparently, the phenomenon is so severe that nobody would ever expect a simple little audio plugin to be the culprit. But, when I ask people who are licensed Waves Native Gold Bundle users whether or not they experience mysterious spontaneous machine reboots when working on audio projects that use Waves plugins, the response is an amazingly unanimous, “Yes!” Followed by a querulous, “How did you know about that?”
Here’s the part that chaps me raw.
If PACE Interlok actually WORKED, if people were NOT able to copy the software, if pirated versions of Native Gold Bundle WEREN’T distributed free as water on the ‘net, then at LEAST someone at Waves could say, “it sucked, but it worked.”
But it DIDN’T! Within weeks of the commercial release of Native Gold Bundle 3.0, pirated versions of the software were available everywhere!
So all of my pain and suffering was for NOTHING! NOTHING! That’s what makes me so unbelievably ANGRY! It was all for NOTHING!
The situation is so farcical that the common practice is, “buy the software, but install the crack.” A large majority of people I know and respect have all done exactly that. They purchased the software, so that they own a license, but they installed the pirated version, and so avoided the copy protection altogether.
You might ask why someone would install the pirated version if they own the license. The answer is that the common wisdom is that the pirated version (which does not contain any traces of PACE Interlok) is more stable, and if you need to reinstall it, you don’t have to request a reauthorization from Waves.
So in the final analysis it’s a wash. PACE Interlok is ineffective at preventing software piracy.
Before you come to the conclusion that I am out to get Waves, please note that I have been working with Waves on and off for the last year trying to get a stable environment. My sincere hope, up until a few months ago, was that I would be able to report, “the Native Gold Bundle had some problems when I got started but Waves was quickly able to resolve them”. I am willing to cut companies a lot of slack if they are able to support me. Unfortunately, after months of communication and escalation with Waves technical support and product management, the problems simply could not be resolved.
It is also critical to point out that Waves is not the only software company that uses PACE Interlok. Others in our industry, including Antares, Avid, Digidesign, and Steinberg also employ this copy protection scheme. My feelings for their products are identical to my feelings for Waves: brilliant work marred by an unacceptable copy protection scheme. A more complete list of PACE Interlok customers is available at the PACE web site at http://www.paceap.com.
Folks, I want Waves to make more money. I want them to eliminate pirated versions of their software. Their plugins are brilliant. I want to reward them for their excellent and hard work advancing the state of the art in digital audio processing. I want every last one of them to be taking money baths and burning money for fun. But if the next version of Native Gold Bundle includes PACE Interlok, or any other copy-protection scheme that is as flawed, then Waves can forget about seeing any more of my money.
It is a terrible, terrible shame that the most powerful and useful plugins available for any audio platform suffer from such a debilitating weakness, but such is the case. It really doesn’t matter how incredible they sound. It doesn’t matter if they offer world-class performance and flexibility. It doesn’t matter if they are useful and innovative. I simply cannot recommend a software package that employs PACE Interlok to any working professional who depends on his DAW to earn his living.
What a shame. What a pitiful shame.
But not a surprise. Copy protection schemes have, by and large, been a hoax from the start. And there seems to be no correlation between successful copy protection and successful software companies. For every company that employs some draconian copy protection scheme, there are others that don’t and which are quite successful.
There is no greater example of this phenomenon than Microsoft. For years, Microsoft products have employed simple CD-key copy protection and registration. It is easy to copy most Microsoft applications and many people freely trade their CDs and licenses to friends and coworkers. It is stealing, it is wrong, but clearly it has not impeded the growth of the world’s largest and most profitable software company.
However, with Windows XP, Microsoft decided to employ a challenge-response copy protection scheme not entirely unlike PACE Interlok. Here’s what’s amazing. With all of their vast resources of talent and money, with millions of person-hours spent developing and testing, with tremendous planning and meticulous marketing, Windows XP’s copy protection was blown practically right out of the gate. Licenses are now freely traded and the whole effort seems to have been totally in vain.
Can we all just learn a little lesson from Microsoft? OK?
I implore Waves in the strongest possible terms to rid itself of this ill-conceived anti-piracy scheme and move to any scheme that does not penalize the paying customer for his integrity.
I implore PACE to provide responsible copy protection software, or get out of the business. The Interlok product is the worst piece of software I have ever stumbled across in over twenty years of working with computers. It is more virus than application. Hopefully, any new products that PACE produces will adhere to the guidelines outlined above for unintrusiveness, interoperability, stability, availability, cost-effectiveness, and copy protection effectiveness.
I implore other software vendors – particularly Waves’ competitors – to learn from Waves’ example, and not to follow in their footsteps.
I implore consumers to send a message to Waves both in dollars and words. Avoid PACE Interlok-protected products in favor of other products that do not impose such a penalty on the paying user. Write Waves and tell them what you think about PACE Interlok.
Finally, I implore everyone who reads this article: do not steal software. That is why we are in this mess in the first place.