My Flexnet Nightmare

I had an absolutely horrendous experience with the Flexnet licensing associated with a PTC product that I am not allowed to talk about. Yesterday, out of the blue, the concerned PTC product started giving me a message stating that it could not connect to the license server. So I started fiddling around with the Windows services related to Flexnet and found that a particular service that should have been running was not. I tried to manually start the service but got an extremely unhelpful error message stating that the service could not be started. No reason why.

This is not the first time I have had a problem with the Flexnet licensing system (see “NX For Mac Licensing Problem“). And I don’t think it will be the last. Before calling PTC support I wanted to see if I could solve the problem myself. So I started poking around. I finally ended up reinstalling the Flexnet license server. Towards the end of the installation I got what appeared to be a useful error message.

As it turns out, the log file mentioned in the error message was empty. Another dead end.

I again tried to manually start the service using ptcadminstartservice.bat but that didn’t work either. This time I got an error message “System error 1067 has occurred” which turns out to a more technical way of saying that Windows cannot start a particular service. I finally threw in the towel and created a case at the PTC technical support portal.

As luck would have it, the case was created when my local PTC support center had shut down for the day. But I got a message that someone from another PTC support center would attend to my case within two hours. So I shut down my laptop and went home. Sure enough when I reached home I got a call from a PTC support executive, started a screen sharing session with him and gave him control of my leptop. For the next hour the fellow configured and re-configured just about everything on my computer related to Flexnet and PTC. He messed around with my registry and deleted all sorts of weird looking keys. Finally he asked me to download the latest Flexnet license server from ptc.com and install it. I did that and got the same error message as in the image above and an empty log file. It was getting late and so I told him that we could try again in the morning.

Today morning another PTC support executive took off from where we left last night and tried a few more things but nothing seemed to work. Then he started asking me to do some unreasonable things and one of them actually solved the problem. We renamed the Flexnet license server installation folder to something else and ran the installer again. This time the error message didn’t appear and the Windows service started. So if I have understood this correctly, something in the Flexnet installation was messed up and doing a re-installation didn’t solve the problem. But somehow renaming the Flexnet folder and letting the installer create it again fixed whatever crap had to be fixed.

My PTC product is running fine now, thanks to the PTC support executive who thought out of the box. Over the past few years I have had to deal with PTC support a few times. I cannot remember a single time where they failed me. PTC probably has the best support people in our industry working for them. Just that the company uses probably the worst software licensing system ever created by mankind.

I will end this rant with this tweet posted by Peter Harman yesterday as I was venting my frustration on Twitter.

  • Matteo

    I had problems with licensing tools in the past too, I think that they cause some troubles (to users) but don’t realize the aims the were written for (by the software houses).

    “associated with a PTC product that I am not allowed to talk about” … intersting misterious product 🙂

  • Anonymous

    It would be interesting to see some posts about alternative software licensing products.

  • To expand on my comment on Twitter, it isn’t a criticism of software companies that choose to use or continue use of Flexnet, it is so established in the market especially for engineering software. If a customer manages a license server for one product they might as well have multiple products controlled by it and in my previous life as an engineer I worked for companies big enough to have dedicated personnel for managing license servers.

    What is a shame is that users have got used to this administration overhead when installing and licensing software, not to mention the reliability of it, and for small companies who don’t have the dedicated resources it becomes a serious issue.

  • Cannot tell if the problem was really with FlexNet or with PTC’s implementation of it but I find it most often easier to not make use of the installers, just work directly with the 4 core files involved.