strawberryJAMM's Security and User Experience WebLog

The delicate balancing act between intuitive user experience and secure software systems


Adobe Photoshop CS activation doesn't play well with LUA

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Arrggggg!!! The longer I run as LUA, the more and more I feel the pain.  I'm so glad we're working to improve this situation in Longhorn.

Last weekend I upgraded from Adobe Photoshop 6 to Photoshop CS.  With Photoshop CS you are now required to "activate" the product within 30 days.  Since this was a new, legitimate version of the software, purchased for work use, I decided to go through the activation process during the installation process (which was, of course, run under MakeMeAdmin).

Then I tried to launch my newly installed Photoshop CS ("Woohoo!  Play time!") only to receive the following error message:

Title: Program Activation
Message: Current user account does not have the privileges to perform product activation Run this application from a user account with administrative privileges or contact your system administrator.

[underline added for emphasis]

Clicking "OK", of course, closed the error message and closed Photoshop CS

Just in case I mis-remembered saying "yes" to activation during installation, I tried running Photoshop CS again under MakeMeAdmin: The program launches with no problems, doesn't ask me to activate and the "Help>Activate..." menu item is disabled.  OK, great - the application is definitely activated now.  I close the application and try again as LUA - the same error appears.  ("Grrrrrr...")  I decide to be sure I've covered all my bases and try running under the local admin account (program runs, no activation request, disabled activation menu item) then go back to LUA again (same error again).

In what I actually expect to end up as a wild goose chase, I hit the new MSN search engine with the terms "Photoshop CS" activation windows, and, variously, non-admin, lua, problem, error, and troubleshoot.  This eventually leads me to a KB article at Adobe's support site titled Troubleshoot Activation Errors (Photoshop CS on Windows).  Although it is focused more on problems arising when/if Photoshop CS demands a re-activation, it actually contained one useful tidbit of information, located under the "Advanced Troubleshooting" section (the only other item in "Advanced Troubleshooting" is "Reformat your drive and install only windows and Photoshop CS..." =-O)

5 . Set the Adobe LM Service to start automatically.

1. Log in to the computer as administrator.

2. Choose Start > Settings > Control Panel.

3. Double-click Administrative Tools and then double-click Services.

4. Right-click Adobe LM Service and choose Properties.

5. Choose Automatic from the Startup Type pop-up menu.

6. Restart the computer and then start Photoshop to try to activate it again.

"Hm," I think to myself, "I bet the application is trying to start and stop this service every time it launches.  If I set the service to automatic, as suggested, then it will start on its own and the activation check should go through under LUA."  So I tried it and ... Hallelujah, it worked!  Hooray!  A workaround!!

There is, of course, one downside -- the service is now always on in the background, completely unnecessarily, using 1,684K of my computer's memory.  This is a fairly small price to pay, I suppose, but it still irks me.  One other way to resolve the issue and get around this downside is to leave the service set to Manual, then, before launching Photoshop CS, use RunAs to launch the services management tool under a local administrator account and start the service.  Then, once Photoshop CS is up and running, stop the service and close the services management tool. This removes the ~1.5M drag on memory, but requires me to remember to do an additional four-steps when I need to open the application -- open services management as Admin, start service, {open Photoshop}, stop service, close services management.  This actually annoys me more than the memory drag irks me, so I left the service on Automatic.  (It should actually be possible to write a script that would automate the process, I'll have to give that some further thought...) 

In the end, I'm flabbergasted that this issue exists in the first place.  Why on earth should anyone have to run a Graphics Application as an Administrator just so it can confirm that an activation process has already been completed?  Obviously Adobe set the service to manual so that it would only run when required but this has brought us to this completely ridiculous situation.  There are other ways to confirm a successful activation process that don't need a {beep}-ing SERVICE!  And while I know software piracy is a big problem in the industry that hurts the bottom line of software companies around the world, for heaven's sake even Windows is happy enough once activation has been completed.

Longhorn is coming folks, and that will increase the amount of LUA users out there.  If you're a company that develops software for average users, make sure your developers and testers are familiar with techniques for developing and testing under LUA, and make them use them.


ASIDE: Since upgrading Photoshop also upgrades ImageReady, a companion web-graphics oriented application, and I also upgraded from Illustrator 10 to Illustrator CS, I immediately also checked out both of those applications under LUA.  To my utter amazement, they both run just fine -- neither appear to require a similar activation process.

  • Photoshop is pirated a lot more than Illustrator or ImageReady, so the activation is more strict

  • Adobe guy:

    That's all well and good, and I absolutely have no problems with a software company's desire (and even need) for an activation process. The problem here is that Adobe's process for Photoshop CS, AS IMPLEMENTED, forces users to run the application under and administrator's acount. This, in turn, encourages users to always run as an admin account because then there are less hassles to worry about.

    How Adobe is enforcing their activation is where the problem lies, not that they are enforcing it. There are many ways that the activation process for Photoshop CS could have been implemented that would not require users to run with an Administrator account or to enable a non-essential service for continuous background operation.

  • You might also be able to give BUILTIN\Interactive permissions to start and stop the services.

  • I ran in to this same problem at my company. Something with our standard image under both win2k and xp prevented users from starting and stopped the service. A standard user on a fresh install was able to start and stop the service with no problem. It took me WEEKS to figure out that there was a service was literally the last place any of us thought to look...

    So, I "solved" the problem by making the service automatic, just as you did.

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