Software License Lessons

ALWAYS deactivate software before uninstalling it or swapping out major hardware.

This applies to software produced by Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, and many other manufacturers including Apple. You should do this because most software licensing agreements only allow a limited number of installations – once you exceed the limit, you can’t activate and fully use the software on the computer(s) that exceed the limit.

Example: I had an Adobe Flash Professional license purchased through a volume licensing agreement, and I was limited to one copy of the software activated at any given moment. A year later, I installed Flash on my new computer and the activation failed. The solution, in this case, was simple – I deactivated Flash on the old machine and I was subsequently able to activate Flash on the new machine.

Another Example, Not as Easy: On another occasion, I didn’t have the opportunity to deactivate software before my hard drive failed. In this case, I had to call the software company, produce proof of purchase, and wait for their activation system to resolve itself before I could activate the new license. 

With the advent of cloud licensing and mobile computing, software companies have become more generous in their activation limit. Before cloud licensing, we were typically limited to one activation. Nowadays, folks work from home, on the train, in the car (not while driving, though!) and all sorts of places. For this reason, software companies have been allowing up to five activations in their cloud licensing agreements. While this gives all of us a larger buffer for “deactivation forgetfulness,” it’s still important to deactivate software before uninstalling because inevitably, one of your five computers will fail or become obsolete and you’ll need to reinstall the software on a new machine.

How do I deactivate software?

Usually it’s just a matter of opening the application, going to the Help menu, and selecting the “Deactivate Software” option. Cloud-licensed software like Adobe Creative Cloud can be deactivated by going to the Help menu and selecting the “Sign Out” option. You may also need to do this in the Creative Cloud main application (the one that sits in the system icons area of your desktop). Some applications, such as Apple iTunes, give you the option to deactivate all current activations. This is great because if you do forget to deactivate, and exceed your activation limit, you just deauthorize all machines and start over. My least favorite, and your final option, is to call the manufacturer and request deactivation. Microsoft used to have an automated phone system that simplified this, but some manufacturers make you wait for a customer service rep. In either scenario, you should have your proof of purchase (receipt, product key, etc.) ready before you call. With all that said, each application is a little different, so be sure to check your software’s licensing agreement and support pages to ensure you’ve properly deactivated it before uninstalling it.