Thursday, 29 June, 2006

Unlocking Garmin GPS Map Data

Just because you're the leader in a field doesn't give you permission to act like the 900 pound gorilla.  Microsoft is bad about this, what with their product activation and software that phones home, but at least they give you time to work around little problems.  Garmin, the leader in the GPS field, has taken some pages from Microsoft's playbook and added a few wrinkles of their own.  Their attitude towards customers is insulting.

About two months ago I got a Garmin eTrex Vista CX GPS.  It's a great little unit and works well with the bicycle.  However, the built-in maps aren't very detailed, so I purchased the newly-released City Navigator North America version 8.  In order to upload the maps to my GPS unit, I had to "unlock" them.

Unlocking consists of starting the Unlock Wizard and going through the whole registration process, for which I had to supply my name, email address, street address, and the 8-digit "coupon" number that came with the product.  After going through all of that, the Unlock Wizard hung up waiting for a response from Garmin's server.  Once I killed the program and started the MapSource software, it told me that the maps had not been unlocked.  As I feared, MapSource told me that the maps were still locked.

Trying the Unlock Wizard again was no help.  Garmin's server told me that my coupon code had already been used.  I eventually found their FAQ, which lead me to the option in the Unlock Wizard which let me retrieve the unlock code from the server, but not before I spent 30 minutes trying to contact their technical support.

A few highlights of my attempts to contact Garmin:

This whole experience has soured me on Garmin.  I realize that it costs money to compile the map data, but that's no reason to act like a bully and treat paying customers as though we're crooks.  As with other copy protection schemes, Garmin's unlocking mechanism needlessly annoys paying customers and does nothing to stop dedicated pirates.  Granted, they stop the casual copying among friends, but nobody has proven that such copying is a significant revenue loss to software companies, movie studios, or record labels.

I'm looking for a different source for quality GPS map data that doesn't require me to jump through Garmin's activation hoops.  Any suggestions?