|From: Mark Hahn
Date: Thu, Sep 7, 2000 7:58 PM
Subject: so-called warranty protection
I am a programmer, and have been, professionally, since 1984. before that, I programmed casually since I was in grade school in the 70's.
software is inherently buggy. people who sell software should be obliged to make their best effort to find and fix these bugs before sale, and should make (free) bug fixes available after sale. this is just common sense, a software "Lemon Law".
however, it's not reasonable to expect a software vendor to support a particular product forever. nor is it reasonable to expect free updates, in perpetuity. I don't have any deep insight into how to prevent a company from pretending that a merely fixed product is a new product, in order to avoid giving it out freely. clearly bugfixing is a best-effort type of thing, but this is a major avenue for a vendor to screw customers.
of course, the vendor may sell a subscription instead. it's a little hard to tell how this would effect the resulting cost of software of course, if the market is not crippled (ie, has competition), then consumers can make this decision.
one problem is that no market is perfectly elastic. currently, for instance, it's nearly unviable to use anything except Microsoft Office, at least in certain jobs. but Microsoft knows that if it slips up and ships a steaming pile of crap, there are a million hounds nipping at its ankles. (incidentally, I use Linux exclusively, and would personally become one of those hounds.)
note that none of these comments treat software specially, and I believe that software warranties and licenses should be governed by the same rules as other products: I fully expect that the bananas I buy today will not make me sick, and can expect a full refund if they do. if they make me sick because of negligence in handling on the part of the store, I can sue for damages. negligence, applied to software, is not easy to determine, but should be thrashed out.
I think of software as something like water. Microsoft owns the "MS Office" spring, from which flows many instances of the package. when I purchase an instance, I am not free to help myself to further instances (pirating copies), but it does give me significant rights. for instance, I should be able to reverse-engineer the product, without limitation. if I use the information gained that way, Microsoft might try to sue me for damages. but if I use the information to produce a completely independent package that competes with Office, I shouldn't be responsible for damages. compatibility is not a trade secret, and must not be protected by the system of damages.
it seems obvious to me that the licensing terms of any product must be FULLY available to the consumer at time of purchase.
it's also obvious that the licensee should not be able to disrupt my use of a bought product except under very extreme circumstances. in fact, if it's bought and paid for in the conventional sense, I don't see any reason that the seller should have rights controlling my actions with it. not to pirate it, of course, if what I bought was explicitly one instance.
if the product is a subscription, the terms of that subscription must state the time limits on how the subscription provider can terminate the service (that is, it's not a good but a service).
regards, mark hahn.