The iLok dongle is more important to Pro Tools users than ever. So should existing users make the move to the new version, and how do new users get started?
Amazingly, the humble iLok dongle has been helping us to manage licences so we can legitimately use our chosen creative tools for 10 years now. So perhaps it's no surprise that PACE have come up with a new and improved version of the iLok. For the first time, all current versions of Pro Tools also now require an iLok for authorisation. This was not the case with Pro Tools 8, and a good number of Pro Tools LE users who upgrade to Pro Tools 9 will need to get to grips with using an iLok for the first time. If you haven't seen one before, an iLok is a small device that you plug into any USB port on your computer. The software checks for its presence before it will run on that system. Take the iLok away and the software is no longer authorised and won't function.
If you buy a boxed copy of the Pro Tools 9 software, it comes with a pre‑authorised iLok, while Pro Tools HD and HD Native systems come with an empty iLok and activation code for authorising a Pro Tools licence onto the iLok. If you are upgrading from an earlier version of HD or LE, the pack comes just with an activation code, so if you don't already have one, you will need to buy an iLok separately.
Existing users won't need reminding that the iLok is a very valuable item, as, in effect, it is worth the combined value of all the software licences that are authorised on it (up to 100 on the original iLok, 500 on each second-generation version). It is also small, which makes it very easy to lose or get stolen! Your iLok.com account, likewise, needs to be treated securely, just as you would treat your online banking details. Don't make the password simple, and don't share your password with anyone.
If you are using an iLok for the first time, you'll need to set up an account at www.ilok.com to manage the licences (or "assets”) on your iLok. You need to do this on a computer connected to the Internet, and there are lots of help videos at www.ilok.com/video, including one to help you sign up for a new account. In doing so, you'll need to choose a unique iLok User ID. Note that at the time of writing, Firefox 4 and 5 are not supported; PACE are working hard to resolve this, but in the meantime they recommend you use Firefox 3.5 or above. On the Mac they also support the latest version of Safari, and on Windows they support Internet Explorer 8. Setting up and running an account at iLok.com is free, but PACE also offer optional services that do have costs attached. One is Zero Down Time, which aims to keep your music system up and running if you do lose or break an iLok. Another is the facility to transfer licences between iLok.com accounts so people can sell their unwanted software.
Once your account is set up, make sure you've installed the iLok Client Software, so that iLok.com can communicate with your iLoks. This is available from the Download page at www.ilok.com/download-ilok-software.html.
If you're upgrading from Pro Tools LE 8 or earlier, creating an iLok account provides somewhere for Avid to deposit the iLok licence for Pro Tools 9. To do this, go to www.avid.com/activation and input your Activation Code, which will be on a card that came with the software, and then your iLok User ID. If you get this bit wrong, the licence could end up in someone else's account, so take care! Now go back to iLok.com, and once you have logged on, you should see a note that says you have new licences available, with a Download button to hit.
If you haven't bought an iLok yet, do make sure you get the nice, shiny, second-generation one rather than the discontinued original, as we are already starting to see new software releases that only support the newer model.
PACE have listened to user feedback over the last 10 years, and so the new iLok resolves a number of issues that we had with the original one. The new iLok has more spaces for licences, yet it is more compact, and so stacks nicely in adjacent USB sockets. The new iLok is faster, too, although at present you will only notice this when downloading a lot of licences in one go. They have made sure that the new iLok is completely backwards‑compatible, so you can transfer any of your old licences onto your second-generation iLok (the only exception being that you won't be able to use the licence cards that could slot into the original iLok, which were used to authorise a few very early iLok plug-ins).
Some software publishers, such as Slate Digital with their VCC plug-in, are choosing to make their software licences work only with the second-generation iLok, mainly because they perceive it as less vulnerable to piracy. Andrew Kirk from PACE told me that "The second generation iLok has a number of features that improve security, but for the end user that isn't of prime concern, it is how reliable and robust it is, how convenient it is to use, how many licences it will hold, and how good it looks; these are much more important to the end user.” The Waves Mercury bundle also requires a second-generation iLok, simply because it includes licences for 121 plug-ins!
Since we looked at iLoks in the August 2008 (/sos/aug08/articles/pt_0808.htm) and November 2005 (/sos/nov05/articles/ptworkshop.htm) issues of Sound On Sound, some of the do's and dont's have changed, so here is an update:
Finally, if something does go wrong with your iLok or the software that it's supposed to be authorising, remember that PACE are just providing a service for the software publishers such as Avid, Waves, and so on. It is these software publishers — not PACE — who set policies regarding lost or stolen iLoks, and other issues, such as whether you're allowed to transfer licences between iLoks in your own account. As Andrew Kirk explains, "Some vendors (software publishers) allow for iLok-to-iLok transfer within an account, and some don't; however, iLok.com will tell you if they don't. Also, some companies don't allow any transfer of licences at all. This is based upon each software publisher's business policies.”
Take a tip from me, and don't go shouting at PACE when things go wrong. If you do, they will play it exactly by the book and you will get very little out of them. However, if you ask nicely and are calm about things, trust me, they will go more than the extra mile to help you if they can.
Finally, Andrew told me that we can expect some exciting things in the iLok world just over the horizon. He wouldn't be drawn as to when we will see them, but as soon as we know, we'll bring the news to you!