Articles / High Tech (Ir)Responsibilit…

High Tech (Ir)Responsibility

Want to sell your own product but not have to worry about those silly guarantees and liabilities? It's easy -- start your own high tech company!

Work without responsibility

Consider the automobile. The government regulates the safety equipment in your car. Airbags, side impact beams, 5MPH bumpers, seatbelts, and standard crash tests all help protect you and your passengers while in your car. Do you think most of these systems would exist without government legislation? Consider that airbag technology has existed since the 1970s.

While the government tends to keep an eye on the automotive industry, the computer industry seems to be able to operate with virtual impunity. Let's look at some examples:

Look at the recent proposed settlement between the United States Department of Justice and Microsoft. Many in the business and computer world consider it a farce.

Have you actually read the End User License Agreement (EULA) on any of your software? Did you know that, in spite of the thousands of hours of development and testing that make up the expensive price of software, there is no guarantee of any kind? If you buy the software and it doesn't work or destroys your data, it's not the software company's fault. It's no one's. Try to swallow these EULAs:

Two separate software companies:

One:

"(name withheld) does not warrant that the Software will meet your
requirements or that operation of the Software will be uninterrupted or
that the Software will be error-free."

"REGARDLESS OF WHETHER ANY REMEDY SET FORTH HEREIN FAILS OF ITS
ESSENTIAL PURPOSE, IN NO EVENT WILL (name withheld) BE LIABLE TO YOU
FOR ANY SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, INDIRECT, OR SIMILAR DAMAGES,
INCLUDING ANY LOST PROFITS OR LOST DATA ARISING OUT OF THE USE OR
INABILITY TO USE THE SOFTWARE, EVEN IF (name withheld) HAS BEEN
ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES."

"IN NO CASE SHALL (name withheld) LIABILITY EXCEED THE PURCHASE PRICE
OF THE PRODUCT."

Two:

"TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, IN NO EVENT SHALL
(name withheld) OR ITS SUPPLIERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY SPECIAL,
INCIDENTAL, INDIRECT, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES WHATSOEVER (INCLUDING,
WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF BUSINESS PROFITS, BUSINESS
INTERRUPTION, LOSS OF BUSINESS INFORMATION, OR ANY OTHER PECUNIARY
LOSS) ARISING OUT OF THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE SOFTWARE
PRODUCT OR THE PROVISION OF OR FAILURE TO PROVIDE SUPPORT SERVICES,
EVEN IF (name withheld) HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH
DAMAGES. IN ANY CASE, (name withheld)'S ENTIRE LIABILITY UNDER ANY
PROVISION OF THIS EULA SHALL BE LIMITED TO THE GREATER OF THE AMOUNT
ACTUALLY PAID BY YOU FOR THE SOFTWARE PRODUCT OR U.S. $5.00; HOWEVER,
IF YOU HAVE ENTERED INTO A (name withheld) SUPPORT SERVICES AGREEMENT,
(name withheld)'S ENTIRE LIABILITY REGARDING SUPPORT SERVICES SHALL BE
GOVERNED BY THE TERMS OF THAT AGREEMENT."

From a hardware company:

"Any Product requiring service during the Warranty Period should be
returned to (name withheld) in accordance with the "Return Material
Authorization" Process set forth in the documentation for that
product and on the (name withheld) Web site."

"EXCEPT FOR THE EXCLUSIVE REMEDY SET FORTH ABOVE, IN NO EVENT SHALL
(name withheld) HAVE ANY LIABILITY TO PURCHASER OF THIRD PARTY FOR ANY
CLAIM, LOSS OF DAMAGE OF ANY KIND, EVEN IF (name withheld) HAS BEEN
ADVISED OF THE POSSIBLY (nice grammar) OF SUCH DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT
NOT LIMITED TO LOST PROFITS, CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL,
PUNITIVE OR INDIRECT DAMAGES, ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH (A)
THE PERFORMANCE, USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE ANY PRODUCT OR ANY DATA,
SOFTWARE, OR EQUIPMENT RELATED THERETO OR USED IN CONJUNCTION
HEREWITH, OR (B) INFRINGEMENT OF ANY PATENT, COPYRIGHT, TRADEMARK, OR
OTHER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHT OF ANY THIRD PARTY.  IN NO EVENT
SHALL (name withheld)'S LIABILITY FOR DAMAGES, WHETHER ARISING OUT OF
CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE, WARRANTY, OR INFRINGEMENT OF ANY INTELLECTUAL
PROPERTY RIGHT, EXCEED THE PURCHASE PRICE PAID BY THE PURCHASE FOR THE
PRODUCT."

From an ISP:

"(name withheld) assumes no liability whatsoever for any claims,
damages, losses, or expenses arising out of or otherwise relating to
the unavailability of the Service in your geographical area, even
where such unavailability occurs after installation of the Service."

You would think these statements relieving the companies of any responsibility would satisfy them. Think again.

Companies are now trying to hide any evidence of their poorly-functioning products behind the law. Consider the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that makes it a criminal offense in America to create software that would demonstrate a weakness or defect in the security of any software or hardware product.

This article at the Register talks about how Microsoft is attempting to prevent any discloser of bugs in their software.

Business Week has an article in which an ISP tells a customer to remove his firewall security or they can't help him with his broadband Internet connection.

"Psst, wanna buy a TV?" whispers Shady Jim in a trenchcoat. He points to the back of his truck parked in the alley. People do this all the time. When you buy Shady Jim's TV, do you expect to bring it back if something is wrong? Of course not. But what if you bought the TV from a store? What if you bought it from the manufacturer? Of course you should be able to return it. Not so with software -- once you open that shrink wrap, the software is yours, no matter how dissatisfied you are.

Disclaimer: The information supplied by the author is for reading purposes only. Should any of the information contained herein cause loss of data, destruction of property, empty love life, bad social standing, or any other event of natural or unnatural origins to the reader or any third party, the author will not liable in this universe or any other.

Recent comments

26 Apr 2002 10:39 Avatar brianpribis

Well paint me red and call me a wagon!
Of all the EULA's I have looked at this was the nicest. I guess I never would have expected this from MS. This is from the VC++ .NET EULA. There are questions to be answered like the definition of a "defect" and so on. But this looks like a real life software warranty.

10. LIMITED WARRANTY FOR PRODUCT ACQUIRED IN THE US AND CANADA.
Except with respect to the Redistributables, which are provided "AS IS," without warranty of any kind, Microsoft warrants that the Product will perform substantially in accordance with the accompanying materials for a period of ninety days from the date of receipt.
If an implied warranty or condition is created by your state/jurisdiction and federal or state/provincial law prohibits disclaimer of it, you also have an implied warranty or condition, BUT ONLY AS TO DEFECTS DISCOVERED DURING THE PERIOD OF THIS LIMITED WARRANTY (NINETY DAYS). AS TO ANY DEFECTS DISCOVERED AFTER THE NINETY (90) DAY PERIOD, THERE IS NO WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF ANY KIND. Some states/jurisdictions do not allow limitations on how long an implied warranty or condition lasts, so the above limitation may not apply to you.

26 Feb 2002 16:43 Avatar mikefm

Re: the EULA

> One think many of you may have never
> done is to have worked in a computer
> retail store like CompUSA. I get
> customers day in and day out that will
> moan and cry over a piece of software
> that they THOUGHT would do what they
> want.
>
> The problem is that they don't read
> the box, or find information on it over
> the internet.. they look at the pretty
> pictures on the front of the box.
>
> BTW, most computer problem are the
> result of the user, who likes to use new
> software as a scapegoat ("I installed
> Unreal Tournament and it gave me a
> virus!").
>
> Then again, what do you expect from
> someone who will argue until they day he
> died that he just installed 128 ghz of
> ram in his modem? The majority of
> customers, and end users for that
> matter, are idiots.


I've worked retail and catalog/net sales of computers, software, etc. The biggest problem in my experience is that often sales people are poorly trained and work on commission. When a customer asks a question they just sort of guess and tell them something that is often totally wrong. Once these customers have talked to a few sales people like this and their friends that know about these things because they read Yahoo! Magazine they no longer have any idea what the proper termnology for things is or how things work but they think they do know. So in your case this person comes to your store, asks a clerk for a program that does what they need, the clerk finds a box with a pretty picture that looks close and shows it to the customer. The customer looks at the shiny box and thinks the clerk is right. They go home and it doesn't work so they come bitching back to lucky you the only guy in the place with a clue but of course they don't remember who sold them the software. All geeky white guys in stupid company shirts look alike afterall.

Despite all that EULA's don't help at all. The customers still come in and bitch, you get stuck trying to clean the mess up, and then when customers with real problems come for help your busy with the retard and there is no way for the customer who's computer crashes every two minutes due to a Windows bug to get help.

25 Feb 2002 12:13 Avatar eperhinschi

Re: Enterprise Grade Software

> Most softwarre is pretty new and
> haven't had the
> time to maturre enough. Perheaps if
> people stopped
> wanting new features we could get some
> really good

I guess it's not the people that want new features: I believe that the programmers should reconsider adding features for the sake of showing that they can add new features.

Just think of lame web designers that put a big Flash that only tells you ``Hi, welcome here!", or use intricate JavaScript to display menus that could be done very well in plain HTML and that freeze your browser. Or of the menus in MS Office 2000, not to speak of the Office assistant that pops up almost at random, and tells you things that you are not interested in :( I think that the Office assistant is a bug.

Gnome and KDE are going this way, too. There are a lot of features that are put in just because it could be done. Who wants a desktop that looks like an airplane navigation board? It's just in order to show that M$ can be outdone :-(

I guess that ``mature software'' is that whose makers know what they want from it, and do not atempt to make a ``super-tool'' that does almost everything: this is teenage attitude. And if one forgets why s/he started to write that piece of code, it is likely that s/he would forget to make those cute new features work well toghether.


Emil Per.

17 Feb 2002 17:08 Avatar tekmate

Re: Enterprise Grade Software

> Then again, there's some software that
> guarantees that it will function exactly
> as its documented. In the case of a
> particular enterprise object-database,
> if an API didn't function as documented
> (ie, had a bug) you would have cause to
> demand action to be taken.
>
> If you're buying a $49 piece of
> consumer software, you're not going to
> get much guarantees. $10,000 for
> something, with 20% maintenance, and
> you'll see warrantees, etc.
>
>


I don't agree brake pads for my car cost less than 49 dollars and I expect them to work no ifs ands or buts. I'm not saying software will ever be free of bugs but if the product says it will do something or work on a particular system and it doesn't why shouldn't I have the right to at least return it and buy something else. MS office is not cheap if I went out and paid 400 for a full version shouldn't I at least expect that the product will allow me to write a letter without crashing.

16 Feb 2002 02:32 Avatar mystran

Re: Umm
I agree. When troubleshooting, cut different thing to minimum.
Once it works add more thing until it doesn't, and you (hopefully) know what's wrong.

Cutting down the firewall temporarily is the same thing as going to a known-to-work power outlet just to see if it's the device or something else..

Screenshot

Project Spotlight

Kigo Video Converter Ultimate for Mac

A tool for converting and editing videos.

Screenshot

Project Spotlight

Kid3

An efficient tagger for MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, and FLAC files.