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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary (also found in English - English (Wordnet), English - Vietnamese)
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hardware /dong'gl/ (From "dangle" - because it dangles off
the computer?)
1. security A security or copy protection device for
commercial microcomputer programs that must be connected to
an I/O port of the computer while the program is run.
Programs that use a dongle query the port at start-up and at
programmed intervals thereafter, and terminate if it does not
respond with the expected validation code.
One common form consisted of a serialised EPROM and some
drivers in a D-25 connector shell.
Dongles attempt to combat software theft by ensuring that,
while users can still make copies of the program (e.g. for
backup), they must buy one dongle for each simultaneous use
of the program.
The idea was clever, but initially unpopular with users who
disliked tying up a port this way. By 1993 almost all dongles
passed data through transparently while monitoring for their
particular magic codes (and combinations of status lines)
with minimal if any interference with devices further down the
line. This innovation was necessary to allow daisy-chained
dongles for multiple pieces of software.
In 1998, dongles and other copy protection systems are fairly
uncommon for Microsoft Windows software but one engineer in
a print and CADD bureau reports that their Macintosh
computers typically run seven dongles: After Effects, Electric
Image, two for Media 100, Ultimatte, Elastic Reality and CADD.
These dongles are made for the Mac's daisy-chainable ADB
The term is used, by extension, for any physical electronic
key or transferable ID required for a program to function.
Common variations on this theme have used the parallel port
or even the joystick port or a dongle-disk.
An early 1992 advertisment from Rainbow Technologies (a
manufacturer of dongles) claimed that the word derived from
"Don Gall", the alleged inventor of the device. The company's
receptionist however said that the story was a myth invented
for the ad.