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My friend gave me his laptop to salvage after being the victim of numerous viruses and malware. I asked him if there was anything important on the laptop that he wanted to keep. He said he wanted to keep his (legit) copy of Adobe Premiere/After Effects and a few videos he edited. He doesn't have the install CDs so I know the software he paid thousands for in 2007 is gone. I can still resurrect the original film (VOB). What is the best way to explain this?

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Why not just remove the viruses and malware and leave the programs and documents alone? – David Schwartz Mar 20 '12 at 0:15
It is very easy to miss a piece of malware; as soon as you miss one, they may re-introduce themselves to the computer. When it's your own computer, or one you work with daily, it's not that bad of an idea to clean it and try again. But for a computer that will be leaving and returning to an inaccessible user, the uncertainty of 'did I really find everything' makes it preferable to reformat and migrate documents. The pain, to the user, of 'oh god, the malware came back' and having to get you the computer again is just too great to risk. – Myrddin Emrys Mar 20 '12 at 0:24
@MyrddinEmrys: I've cleaned malware off of dozens of computers and never had that issue. In any event, that's an extremely unusual fear relevant only to an extremely unusual situation and there's no reason to think it's relevant to the OP's situation. – David Schwartz Mar 20 '12 at 9:32
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Documents are digital files you have gotten from others or created yourself. Every document requires a type of 'reader' to access it.

You can compare it to real world documents like 18mm film, cassette tapes, CDs, and microfiche. Each of this real-world document requires a special device to play it; if you don't have that device then you still have the document, but it's kind of useless without a 'Program' that can open the document and make it available to you.

So he still has his Adobe Premiere documents, but he has lost the program needed to open them; the same as if he had a bunch of cassette tapes but no cassette player. He can go buy another copy of Adobe to open the documents, but until he does they will gather dust.

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I will claim that there is no fundamental difference between "programs" and "documents", and what you really need to explain to your friend is the concept of DRM, as that is (primarily) what hinders you from extracting the installed software and implanting it on a different computer.

Arguably, some hinderance stems from the monstrous black box that is the Windows registry and your imperfect knowledge of where all the necessary parts are located, but the former is an ancient relic that has survived as it (accidentally) helps in DRM efforts, and the latter is highly circumstantial.

To help your friend out, I suggest you obtain an equivalent installation disk from a reputable third party and find his product key by starting the software and watching the splash screen (Adobe are famous for those) or the Help->About screen. The official instructions for retrieving the key are here. (Thanks!) Then you just reinstall it after wiping the infected OS.

Clarifying stance with edit

Some would like to divide software and documents as "software is used to create/read/use documents". This is a useful view for some cases. It is patently false in this example:

I use (let's call it A. It is software) to create a program (B). B is then a "document" as I create it and run it in A. Then I use B to modify some pictures I have taken (C). B is now software, and C is document.

This example is far simpler than many real life scenarios. Including VMs (like Java and Flash), operating systems, self hosting development software (A in the above example was possibly made in the previous version of A) and bits of text copied from Stack Overflow will make a lot of special cases for distinguishing between "software" and "document", unless you accept that they are all "documents" with different purposes.

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This response is not becoming of such a reputable message board. – flashnode Mar 20 '12 at 2:07
@flashnode I might be biased by having written it myself, and if there is some important fact I'm unaware of that makes my answer particularly bad, I obviously still don't know about it. Nevertheless, I truthfully can't find what part of my answer you disapprove of so strongly. Please elaborate so I can contribute more reputable responses in the future? – Eroen Mar 20 '12 at 3:30
While your recommendation of recovering his license key and re-installing using alternate media is excellent, I believe your discussion of documents vs programs to be highly theoretical to the average user. If someone needs to have the difference between Program and Document explained to them, they are obviously not the type of person who will be writing their own software... the pre-requisite for your A > B > C example of document as program. – Myrddin Emrys Mar 20 '12 at 8:18
I agree that the "software <verb>s documents" view can be useful under some circumstances, but the explanation "I can recover your video but not the editing software because the software is used to edit videos" will be a lie (the same argument is invalid for portable software) and not really explain anything in the scenario from the question. Perhaps there are other, better explanations, but nobody has posted them as answers here. – Eroen Mar 20 '12 at 17:41
Except that some software is unrecoverable; depending on the state of the computer it is completely within reason to believe that (for example) the registry is corrupted beyond repair and that is where the application stored the product key. Even when things are not that drastic, recovering files requires less expertise and domain knowledge than recovering software licenses; not everyone has a vast computer recovery skillset to draw on. – Myrddin Emrys Mar 21 '12 at 21:44

if he still has his serial and/or activation code and registered his software, it might be best to contact Adobe. They might be able to help him if he has proof he has purchased the software in the past. Also since version CS2 Adobe has released trial versions that can be activated to full versions just like the box versions if you have your original serial number. If not, well theres nothing you can do but repurchase the software.

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Programs create, modify, and allow viewing of documents. Documents without programs can't do anything.

Since a .vob file is a type of document (in a sense), it can't be of any use unless it is put through a program.

Analogy: movies need players, otherwise they are just patterns on a disc, tape, etc.

@Eroen is on right track, if you can get the key, you can likely download the proper version from the Adobe ftp site and reinstall it. If you can get access to the original system, deactivate it on that system first.

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