Things I learned in the past 24 hours.

1. If you use NetNewsWire 2.1 and one day it rejects your purchased serial number with “This serial number has been used too many times, or is associated with another NewsGator account.”, then you have hit a known bug and need to get the free update.

2. An account with NewsGator is required but not necessary to use NetNewsWire. A quandary that this harshes this consumer’s buzz.

Long winded rambling about NewsGator after the jump.

NetNewsWire is my news aggregator of choice. I have not done a lot of comparison shopping but I settled on NNW because of its suitable set of features and nice clean UI (I don’t like a lot of eye candy). For my needs, NNW is a terrific program.

One year ago I paid for the upgrade from the free Lite version to the fuller featured 2.1. This was shortly after NewsGator bought the program from Ranchero Software. The paid version included a free one year subscription to NewsGator’s online service. I don’t know what that service offers beyond syncing my feeds with other readers (e.g. at home and office) or being able to access them via a web browser. I never used the service but I had to open an account to activate my NNW license. Annoying but yeah, whatever, I needed my NetNewsWire.

The subscription expired yesterday and suddenly NNW stopped functioning properly. The program would not recognize my license. When it launched a window would pop up telling me to purchase the software or to register, but would not let me use my existing serial number. The window included the message “This serial number has been used too many times, or is associated with another NewsGator account.”

When I bought NNW last year my understanding was that the online account was only needed for initial activation and that I would be able to use NNW indefinitely afterwards without the online service. So, I sent an email to support about my predicament. In the meantime I went to take a look at my NewsGator account for the first time ever to see if there was something I could do there. There wasn’t. I could not log in because I had forgotten the password I set a year ago. The ’email password’ option wasn’t contacting me (it eventually did, many hours later). I eventually stumbled into my account following a link from within NNW – it apparently knew my password and was able to negotiate a cookie for me. There I was told that my account had expired and could renew it or close the account. I couldn’t readily tell what renewing meant and was concerned that I would be billed for a subscription to the Premium service. Again, I have never knowingly used the online service and understood that it was not required for NNW to function, so I closed the account.

Shortly after the NewsGator offices opened today I got a response that my issue was due to a NNW bug and that the free update to version 2.1.3 would take care of it. It did. NNW is working fine again.

The support person also noted that my account was closed so he reactivated it for me. Another email exchange clarified for me that there would be no charge for the account and in fact the online service, having a distinct billing system from the software sales, does not have my credit card information. I don’t know what it means to have my account reactivated. If I check the service online I’m told that my “Account Expired”. Does that mean it’s not activate after all? NNW’s sync feature doesn’t work, it says my username or password is not correct – but I can use the credentials to log into the NewsGator website. NetNewsWire tells me I can create a free account but don’t I already have one as indicated by the successful login? And when I do log in I’m led to believe I need to pay. I don’t actually want the sync feature so I’ve turned it off in NNW.

Perplexingly, if I try to access *any page* on NewGator’s main website I get redirected to the online service’s subscription page that says my account is expired. Any page. I can’t get to the product pages or buy any other of their products. I can’t get to the support page. Apparently my browser’s cookie is tipping them off that I’m a deadbeat. I opened a different browser and was able to navigate the site normally until I logged in (how does one log into a site with an expired account?). Now that second browser is mucked up. I could delete the cookies for the site I suppose but I think I’ll just leave it as is, as a reminder to think twice before considering other products from NewsGator.

I’m quite happy with NewsGator’s customer support. Someone responded quickly and clearly and with the right answers. I’m puzzled by the company’s marketing attempts to shove their Premium service at me (at least I think that’s what they’re shoving). The account requirement and its unclear purpose and cost mars the wonderful software package they bought from Ranchero. It seems I’m not alone in being disappointed and put off by the extra marketing baggage.

Update: I did just find this explanation of why the account is needed. WTF they felt the need to make it phone home every week is beyond me. Do I need to know that my account is expired if NNW is going to keep working anyway and I’ve turned off syncing? Email me if my account needs renewing (I did get such an email so they clearly have the technology).

In the end things seemed to have worked out. NNW is working nicely again, syncing is turned off and hopefully I’ll never have to deal with the online account business again. The experience has been a bothersome but I will continue to recommend NetNewsWire to others.