MojoPac – Potentially Great Software with Serious Flaws

The ability to run Surfulater from a USB Stick is something our users and I would like to see. It is easy to carry around your Knowledge Base files on a USB stick or even use them directly from a USB stick, but there are times when you are using someone else’s PC and want to use Surfulater. One way to accomplish this is to run it on the USB stick. However there are hurdles to overcome, primarily in respect to licensing and conversely piracy. We need to ensure that our customers can use their copy of Surfulater on a USB stick, but prevent unlicensed use, and that’s the difficult part.

To my knowledge only U3 USB sticks provide the capabilities software developers need to adequately protect their software on USB sticks, however there is a reasonable amount of effort required to get your software working on U3 devices and I’ve read where some folks aren’t all that happy with the way U3 works and about it not working in some corporate environments. So I’ve shied away from this as a solution and have been looking at alternative ways of meeting the need to access Surfulater Knowledge Bases on different PC’s. For example providing the ability to view KB’s in a Web Browser, without needing Surfulater installed at all. I’m also working on synchronization, which will make it a breeze to use the same KB’s at work and at home.

So what’s this about MojoPac? My friend Leigh Wardle e-mailed me yesterday to tell me he had Surfulater running on a USB stick using a new product called MojoPac and my reaction was wow, followed by how! I couldn’t see how they could protect licensed software from being pirated by copying the MojoPac installation. I told Leigh of my concerns and he promptly e-mailed me back an excerpt from their Web site that indicated the software was protected by locking it to the serial number of the USB device, and therefore copying it to another USB stick wouldn’t work. I thought ok that sounds great I really need to give this thing a try. Unfortunately it was downhill from there.

I duly registered on the MojoPac web site and downloaded the software. My first problem was that I wasn’t able to install it on my 1G Corsair Flash Voyager USB stick because it doesn’t have a serial number. That’s fine and good, as without a serial number they can’t provide the protection software developers need.

I tried another USB device and it worked a treat. Start it up and you get a clean, brand spanking new instance of Windows XP running. I have to tell you I was impressed, and still am.

Next I installed Surfulater and after a small hiccup it installed and ran perfectly. I exited MojoPac, moved the USB device to another PC and started it there and again it worked a treat. Next I activated the Surfulater license to get it from a Trial Version to a Full Version and did some more testing, which all went fine.

Then I moved the USB drive back to the original PC, started MojoPac and Surfulater and Surfulater ran as a Free Trial when it should have been fully licensed! This is problem number one. In essence any software that uses protection techniques that check for various installed hardware will likely not work with MojoPac, as it stands. This is because a MojoPac system includes a mix of the underlying PC’s hardware plus its own emulated or virtual hardware. To resolve this the underlying hardware should not be visible in MojoPac. I think you’ll find a fair bit of commercial software won’t work, because of this. But things get worse.

I kept thinking that relying on a serial number alone to protect MojoPac and all the licensed software installed therein couldn’t be adequate and it didn’t take long to prove that I was right.

I went back to my original Corsair USB stick (without a serial number) and installed a virtual drive. This looks to Windows like a real drive and includes a serial number. MojoPac installed and ran fine on this, and my initial reaction was great. But then reality set in. I can copy this virtual drive to another USB stick or hard drive, or post it on the Internet for others to use, and MojoPac works.

This means that MojoPac itself is easy to copy (pirate) and use without paying for it, but the far bigger problem for me as a commercial software developer, is that it makes my software just as easy to copy and use for free. Surfulater won’t run on a different hardware configuration as I mentioned above, which is a MojoPac failing they need to resolve, but other licensed software I tried works perfectly.

I really don’t want to rain on their parade as I see MojoPac has great potential if these issues can be resolved, but my feeling is that the underlying issues will be difficult to fix. The MojoPac Web site tells us they’ve got some very clever people working there and they are nicely cashed up with VC Funds, so resources shouldn’t be a problem (yeah I’m jealous I know). As things stand right now they need to take some urgent action before they get into serious hot water. If it were my product I’d remove it from the market untiil I could address these issues.

There also seems to be discontentment brewing over on the MojoPac Support Forums, with company representatives AWOL. Hopefully they’ll return soon.

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28 Responses to MojoPac – Potentially Great Software with Serious Flaws

  1. Pingback: VentureBeat » Updates: Employees paying price of VC; MojoPac’s problems

  2. Charles Bronson says:

    When is the next Surfulater release,are we there yet,are we there yet,are we there yet.

  3. nevf says:

    I’m just working on updating the Help and doing some final testing. Expect it any day now.

  4. Hank says:

    There’s lots more challenges with MojoPac. I attempted to install it on a Maxtor external drive (their web site states Maxtors OK) and had problems. Tried a 5 GB Micro Drive – no serial #. Tried a PNY stick, very slow. MojoPac requires admin priviledges – can’t get in a university environment. Barfs under OE7 etc etc. Was released without a beta program and it shows.

  5. Richie Hindle says:

    I’d like to try MojoPac on a serial-number-less USB drive, just like you did – how did you create this virtual drive? Thanks.

  6. Percy says:

    You can create a virtual drive from DOS using the SUBST command. Just type in subst /? and it will give you the format and commands you need. Problem I had though is that it stills says there is no valid serial. I am trying to use a 4gb SD card as my notebook has a port for SD cards.

  7. nevf says:

    Richie & Percy,
    Thanks for your comments. I’d rather not say just yet, how to create a virtual drive as the MojoPac folks have said they’ll respond to the issues I’ve raised by 6 Sept. I can tell you thta it is easy to do using freely available software.

    If I don’t here anything in the next day or so I’ll post a comment with the details.

  8. nevf says:

    Hank, No doubt you are right about other problems. Their forums have plenty of comments from disgruntled users.

    I posted a polite message about the problems I found, on their support forum and referred to this article. To my bemusement and disappointment they promptly informed me they’d deleted it, because “it is flagged as promotional post by our company”.

    In my books deleting such forums posts is just not the done thing and shooting the messenger doesn’t help anyone. In this Web age transparency is all important.

  9. Alas, the folks over at MojoPac aren’t being very honest.

    They have shut down their forums, with the lamest excuse I have ever heard in my life. The users overwelmingly requested that the free flow of information be stopped. Very disappointing for a new company to shoot itself in the foot.

    You might want to check out http://www.moca5.com, company started by a Stanford Professor. These folks seem to have their act together.

    Best, James Scherber

  10. Ed Holloway says:

    Neville,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Looks like there are several issues with MojoPac, other than just the perf problems I was seeing. We use a license product by XHEO in our products, I may try it in Mojo and see if I get the same results you do.

    I also need to check out Surfulater, looks like something I could use.

    My Mojo Issues:
    http://www.edholloway.com/archive/2006/09/28/My-Mojo-is-Slow_2100_.aspx#comments

  11. ani says:

    The website for moka5 is http://www.moka5.com. They are doing some pretty cool things with USB.

  12. Pingback: Henk van de Goor's Bloggers@large

  13. Henk says:

    I have the beta version installed and the update didn’t work. Even worse: it put me into an infinite loop where it would not install and then exit. So MojoPac would not start up anymore leaving me locked out!

    I asked support how I could fix this, but the answer from support was that I could not. Wrong!

    I found out after tinkering around a while that it only took deleting 1 file and my old MojoPac worked again. How could they not know this?

    And today I found out they closed their forums leaving everyone out there in the cold.

    I have no idea who is doing their PR but it SUCKS!

    Also the reasons they give for implementing the serial and closing the forums are just bogus. It’s a week later now and I haven’t seen any update that fixes the serial issue!

    See my experiences in my last post about them:
    http://zion.demon.nl/archives/443-MojoPac-causes-bad-Mojo.html

  14. nevf says:

    James et.all., thanks for the posts. I haven’t been to the MojoPac forums these past few days as I figured they’d likely delete any bug reports I posted, like they’d previously done.

    I have spent a bit of time on the forums and read a fair cross section of posts and all I could see were people with genuine problems asking for help, not getting any, and then rightly complaining that no help was forthcoming. I can’t recall ever seeing anyone indicate there ware any problems with the forums themselves or wanting an alternative. So to shut them down is quite unbelievable and as you, Henk and others have said, the reasons for doing so are preposterous.

    It is quite clear they have problems, not just with the software but with their ability to provide support and to communicate with users.

    Forums are an ideal way of providing support, garnering feedback, building trust and developing communities. They also provide a warts and all view view of the world. As a consumer I always check out product forums before purchasing. And as a software developer I’ve been running support forums for my products for over 10 years now.

    I don’t think MojoPac get it, nor appreciate the damage they are doing to themselves by putting a gag on their users and by not responding to the issues being raised. They’ve effectively done a great job of destroying all the good will they could have built from all the PR they’ve received in recent weeks and from their launch at DEMO.

    In case you weren’t aware they’ve recently received $US4M in VC funding from New Enterprise Associates (www.nea.com). You would think they’d use some of this to get on top of the forums problems, pronto. I mean that is something that is easily doable, whereas resolving the software problems is more challenging and will no doubt take some time.

    I have to wonder if the VC folks are at all concerned about the debacle that is unfolding. Likely not as I’m told it is just a numbers game for them. You win some, you loose some.

  15. Pingback: Henk van de Goor's Bloggers@large

  16. Henk says:

    As you can see bavo this comment I wrote a follow up to my story.

    I actually got contacted directly by the VP of Business Development, Katya Falakshahi.

    She goes into the problems that I mailed MojoPac support about but effectively dodges the real issues, like MojoPac’s timing to take the forums down- just when a major glitch in their software was reveiled (and without providing an alternative).

    Just read the whole story here:

    http://zion.demon.nl/archives/444-MojoPac-problems-part-deux.html

  17. Pingback: Henk van de Goor's Bloggers@large

  18. Henk says:

    Yet again I have an update from MojoPac/RingCube. They (partly) blame their problems on the fact that a 3rd party maintains their website (bad). The good part is that they *do* listen and are going to implement most suggestions. I am looking forward to another release and will follow progress as it unfolds…

    http://zion.demon.nl/archives/445-MojoPac-to-redeem-themselves.html

  19. Pingback: My Cantina » Surfulater V1.99, Build 1.0 out now

  20. Larry says:

    How about cutting Ringcube some slack and updating your blogs with the latest information? It seems that that making a sincere effort.

    Oct 8, 2006
    SUBJECT: Update on MojoPac version 1.0.1, MojoPac Store and MojoPac Forums

    Dear MojoPac’ers,

    Since we were officially launched two weeks ago, the response to MojoPac has been incredible – we really appreciate all your support. As a new company with a new product, we are working around the clock to enhance the product and your experience as a user, and we do our best to incorporate suggestions made in your feedback regarding features and improvements. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for having been such a great user community.

    We thought we’d take the time to update you on a few things:

    MojoPac 1.0.1: A patch for MojoPac, version 1.0.1, is scheduled to release on October 12, 2006. This patch includes the following improvements:
    Increase the number of boots during Trial. This patch will grant you an additional 100 boots of MojoPac so that you can try the product more extensively for free.
    Expand the types of devices you can use to install MojoPac. MojoPac 1.0 was designed to support installation on all USB 2.0 compliant storage devices. We added this feature to improve reliability and software security (making it harder to copy MojoPac and any installed applications from your device). Even though the majority of USB Storage Devices are standards compliant (all iPods work great, as well as majority of USB hard drives and Flash devices), we realized that some devices that use the USB 2.0 sticker (including a few USB external cases for hard drives) are not fully compliant with the USB 2.0 standard, and as such, MojoPac would not install on those devices (hence the errors some of you encountered with respect to lack of valid serial number, which is an essential part of the USB 2.0 standard).

    We have been working directly with hard drive manufacturers to see if we can find a way around this issue, and the great news is that MojoPac Version 1.0.1 will allow you to install on all USB hard drives with external cases, which we believe is the ideal setting to use MojoPac– USB external hard drives provide performance and storage capacity that you need.

    We changed the logic in our code between MojoPac Beta-4 and MojoPac 1.0; the change resulted in some previously working devices to no longer work. We apologize for this inconvenience. MojoPac 1.0.1 will allow your USB hard drives to work again.

    We’ve taken care to ensure that as many USB 2.0 storage devices are supported as we can. However there are some non-USB 2.0 compliant flash devices that will not be MojoPac compatible – MojoPac cannot be used on these devices. Further, we know of at least 2 USB external hard drives (neither ones are popular brands) that show a very strange behavior (they show different serial IDs when connected to different PCs). We are working with the manufacturers to see if they have a solution for this behavior.

    Some users have communicated to us that MojoPac works on non-USB storage devices like FireWire and SD/Flash cards. Please note that these are NOT currently supported configurations and might not work in MojoPac Version 1.0.1 and our future versions.
    A fix for a majority of the RS1 errors some of you have been seeing. As it turns out, most of the RS1 errors are caused by the same root cause, and we believe the fix we’ve implemented should resolve most of them.
    Improved error reporting. We have also included more diagnostic information in error reports that are sent to help us help you more. As always, you can review the report before sending.
    Automatic Update. Please note that Trial versions of MojoPac will automatically self update to the latest version when connected to a host machine with an active Internet connection. Automatic-update preferences are configurable in the purchased (full) version of MojoPac, so you can disable automatic updates in your purchased version if you like.
    We’d also like to clarify that we are still working on a fix for another bug – namely that MojoPac won’t work on machines where Windows is not installed under the standard directory of C:\WINDOWS (for example, machines where Windows is installed under D:\WINDOWS or C:\WINNT). The fix for this is not part of MojoPac 1.0.1, but we will keep you posted on the status of the fix. MojoPac Store: We really appreciate your enthusiasm and interest to purchase MojoPac! Due to unforeseen circumstances, the opening of our store has been delayed. The issues have been resolved, and our store is currently going through extensive QA and testing. The store is scheduled to open on October 16, 2006. The deadline to receive our special promotional price of $29.99 will be extended to November 16, 2006, and the extra boots we are providing should allow you to use your MojoPac extensively in the interim.

    MojoPac Forums: We have taken a lot of effort to organize and design our Support Forums based on your feedback. Many of you asked us to have a Forum that addresses the top questions you have about using MojoPac quickly and efficiently, and to constantly update the list of these top questions to reflect the latest status of MojoPac, and also provide the flexibility to allow user-generated comments. We believe our new forum format will provide our users with a great place to share their thoughts on our product, obtain beneficial information from other users, and get quick help from our forum staff. To this end, we have taken several steps to revamp our forums.
    We have implemented a frequently updated FAQ system inside our forum software to provide easy to access answers to common questions. One of the shortcomings of our previous forum structure, which was more unstructured and free form, was that there was no way to easily get questions answered. The same questions were being asked repeatedly in different threads, with varying answers from other users and forum staff. We feel that our new system will answer many of the repeated questions in a standard place, with responses from MojoPac team clearly marked and easy to find.
    We continue to increase our forum staff, to help get answers to you in a timely fashion.
    We reorganized the thread groups in the forums to align with the types of questions users were posing. Our previous forum had many groups that were underutilized and many groups that quickly filled with not so relevant threads.
    Similar to all top Forums on the web, our main forum page will contain a link to a list of guidelines that all forum participants are expected to adhere to. For example, everyone is encouraged to report bugs and point out shortcomings in the product, but no one is allowed to resort to any flame baits or post personally hurtful comments about other MojoPac users. These guidelines will be enforced by the forum staff.

    Our restructured forum is scheduled to open on October 12, 2006.

    Thank you for all your support and we believe you will have a great experience using the updated MojoPac.

    Sincerely
    MojoPac Team

  21. jccodez says:

    Are you sure this searial number is not a volume id of the drive, which can be changed with shareware. There is a big difference between a serial number and a volume id. If they are using the volumeid , they are morons, anyone can change their volumeid on the drive.

  22. Sramda says:

    Have the problems/bugs been solved? WSJ had a favorable article on them yesterday -http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB116113166328095945-lMyQjAxMDE2NjExOTExMzkxWj.html
    Anybody gave mojopac a try recently?

  23. nevf says:

    jccodez: They use the USB serial number, which is not the same as the drive serial number, which as you say can be changed.

    In the V1.0.1.0 release they’ve tightened up the s/n check, so it doesn’t work inside a TrueCrypt drive anymore, which from my point of view as someone whose livelihood comes from developing and selling software, is a good thing.

  24. nevf says:

    Sramda: The ability to run MojoPac on a virtual drive (TrueCrypt) has been resolved (see my comment above).

    However there are still problems. Surfulater for example works fine on the PC it is installed and licensed on, but only runs as a free trial when you run MojoPac on any other PC.

    Windows XP doesn’t come up as a genuine version and WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) therefore fails. Applications that use WGA, such as IE7 therefore won’t work. There are also problems with IE6 as well as with other applications. Check out the MojoPac forums for more. I’m not inclined to post on their forums any more as they are quite heavy handed and delete posts they don’t like.

    I did have a good conference call with the CEO Shan Appajodu and other folks at RingCube two weeks back and they assured me they were doing their best to address my issues.

    I e-mailed the CEO with the results of my V1.0.1.0 review on 17 Oct 2006, as requested, and have yet to receive a reply. Life goes on.

  25. Pete Maher says:

    I am so jealous of all you people who have actually got MojoPac to work at all, even if there are issues. I have tried 3 different PCs with 3 different USB devices and all give the same symptoms – at best after loading MojoPac displays nothing of the new environment – just a blank screen and my host machine grinds to a halt although with CPU hardly being used. At worst it causes my host PC to reboot.

    Another very worrying observation I have made is that MojoPac doesn’t like any attempt to start when the internet is not available – It tries to connect to the internet and keeps trying, apparantly indefinitely although I didn’t wait to see :-) . I can see why internet access might be required for first usage/registration – but thereafter it ought to run without any need for internet connections. One wonders what it is trying to do / and what kind of information it may be logging.

    There were comments above that this software was released without a beta programme – it is my opinion that the current release is the beta (at latest) programme – so it is a shame that they are asking people to pay fo it :-) – they certainly haven’t won any favours. which is a shame given that conceptually this is a brilliant application.

  26. Pete Maher says:

    …and one further thing – I’ve found that what was freezing my PC was sophos AV running at the same time as Mojo. Disabling Sophos results in Mojo running OK – but this is not a possibility in the real world.

  27. nevf says:

    Pete, unfortunately the real world has a bad habit of getting in our way sometimes.

    I suggest you post this on the MojoPac Support Forum or e-mail their support folks and see what response you get.

  28. TE says:

    So…when you say the virtual drive issue has been resolved you mean that MojoPac cannot be installed on a Corsair even when a virtual drive is created? That would be a step backward; not forward.

    I tried the SUBST command to create a virtual drive. If there is some other tool(s) please list them here. I have no interest in copying my mojo and sharing it with others, but I do want to run it on my Corsair.