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Stealth Upgrade Fees: How to treat your customers like feces… AND how to fix it!

Posted on December 07, 2010 by Juan

[Added 4:45 pm on December 7, 2010: In the giving credit where credit is due category, Jonathan Monroe of Actual Technologies responded to my complaint (in the comments to this blog post) and has done a very nice thing, crediting me my upgrade fee.  I fully understand this is no small action for what I suspect is a smallish developer with reasonably small margins.  While I didn’t like how I felt extorted, Mr. Monroe does seem to be interested in fixing the problem.  So as you read this, be aware there was in fact a happy ending…]

One of the pieces of software I use a lot is database software, specifically MySQL.  Much of my research involves manipulating large amounts of data and using a free product like MySQL just made a lot of sense to me.

To get that data to easily move into Microsoft Excel, I have used Actual Technologies ODBC Driver for Open Source.  This awesome product worked beautifully for allowing me to move data from MySQL to Excel.  Until today…

Recently my university upgraded my Microsoft Office to version 2011.  I am not sure if the problem lies in Office 2011 or in Actual’s drivers, but Excel couldn’t see the driver.  I could open the ODBC Manager software and see the Actual drivers were installed and I had a valid license:

Open Source Database DSN Configuration
I could even see the serial number and confirm it was OK:

License Key

However Excel insisted it wasn’t installed.  Faced with this problem, I went ahead and downloaded the software again, figuring I might just need to reinstall it to get Excel to see it.  So I downloaded the new version of the driver and installed it.  Notice the installer claimed it was upgrading my drivers:
Install Actual ODBC Driver Pack
I then launched Excel and it did see my MySQL database success!!!!  Oh wait, why am I only getting 3 lines of data back for my query….  Opening the ODBC manager my worst fears are confirmed, my old license key is no longer valid!

Actual Open Source Databases DSN Configuration

I am able to confirm my old license number is in there…  the driver just claims it is “not valid for the current version of the driver”.  I try to erase the number thinking that maybe the driver just got confused and I got this error:

ODBC Manager

This acknowledgement that I had a previously valid license key that they are now rejecting strongly suggests they didn’t do this by accident. Actual technologies simply declared my old license number invalid.  Now I am rather upset.

An installer program should NEVER simply upgrade a user if the new software is going to declare their old serial number invalid.  That is just rude and frankly smacks of extortion.

After waiting a few hours for a response, I got one. I had a license key for the old version, NOT the new version. They did send me instructions for downgrading. In that sense, they are doing a good job, and in fact, the upgrade price is reasonable and I will probably pay for the upgrade, but I replied with the following message to Jonathan Monroe of Actual Technologies:

Mr. Monroe,

First of all, thank you for your response. I appreciate it. I especially appreciate that you provided instructions for downgrading the driver. I will in fact probably purchase the upgrade, the price is reasonable.

That said, I do need to chastise Actual Technology a bit. I am currently working on a blog post about this, but in a nutshell, it is rude in the extreme to upgrade a user without warning them that such an upgrade requires a new license key. This action left me without a functional installation of ODBC drivers for hours, right when I needed them. Please consider placing a warning message in large print telling users how this will happen or changing your software to recognize formerly valid licenses as ‘temporary licenses’ so a user can contact you to get things resolved.



As I noted above, Mr. Monroe in fact has done a gracious thing and refunded me my upgrade fee as well as made the suggestion they will be looking into remedying this problem.  Fixing the problem always makes the customer happy… thanks Mr. Monroe and Actual Technologies.

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