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The Almighty Buck

Sunset Clauses in Software 293

Posted by michael
from the blood-from-turnips dept.
DaveAtFraud writes: "Ed Foster over at InfoWorld has an interesting column on "sunset" clauses in commercial software. I don't have a problem with people who write, say, anti-virus software charging for a "subscription" to their virus signature update service. I am paying for something of value to me and it costs them something to maintain this data. I do have a problem with the same people extracting a little extra "squeeze" every couple of years and forcing me to learn yet another user interface just because they have decided that the old one looks little dated. Somehow, I don't buy (no pun intended) that their engine for scanning a byte stream has changed again."
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Sunset Clauses in Software

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  • Yup. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunityNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:32AM (#2703498) Homepage
    I can't blame them. It takes effort to continually support old versions. This affects the bottom line. Companies(especially public ones) are all about making money. When it gets to a point where you are supporting people using old software and you are losing money, that's when you pull the cord. It's like Microsoft ending support for Win95. Can you blame them? It wasn't even that great when it first came out, 6 years ago. If I was them, I wouldn't have given people quite so long.
    • Re:Yup. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khuber (5664)
      That's what I thought when I read the intro. Supporting old software is a drag. Sorry to ramble on so much here, but I think as the industry matures, these sorts of issues will need to be addressed.

      However, I don't think that software licenses should expire. It's reasonable for a company to politely inform customers that they will no longer support versions older than xx.x after some date though. But if customers are willing to provide the support internally (if they're business customers) or forego support, that should be okay. The gas pump doesn't stop supporting your old car!

      I still have Word 97 at work. I will have a current version in a couple days since they're replacing my PC and no longer installing that version, but I have no technical need for it. Of course my development tools are kept up to date.

      This gets a little more complicated with programs that connect to online services. At some point, providing backwards compatibility becomes very difficult, especially if it includes working around bugs in the old software. In the case of the TurboTax web version (which I use for preparing my taxes), there is no software installed on the client. So for at least some types of software, having them be browser-based solves the problem of customers that don't want to upgrade.

      -Kevin

    • When a company releases some software, it balances the money it hopes to rake in against the risks of additional costs, risks and liabilities, public exposure of intellectual property, and stuff like that. The buyer balances the benefits of buying a software package against the costs of the software and the time and effort they spend in getting familiar with it, the risks of non-support, and stuff like that. This balance of trust works both ways.

      Most decent pieces of software should evolve and improve. Normally, if you are a serious user, you will want to have the latest version. The year's old source of GhostScript used to be free - but I was prepared to pay for this year's when I was doing something complex.

      However, occasionally, the software does not evolve in the way you want. I know one image processing product that was lean and efficient, if a little dull. It was bought by another company, who bloated the code, stuck in all sorts of unwanted features, and slowed the thing to a crawl. The dedicated users are still using a version from about 5 years ago. Okay, shit happens, but they still had a working program. A 'sunset' clause would force these users to abandon their working product or fear litigation, but would not supply a workable alternative. Ten years or more ago, you used to get a lot of booby-trapped software, dongled code, and stuff like that, because it was sold by people who did not really understand software, what it cost, and why it was worth it.

      We don't want to go back to those days. My gut feeling is that there ought to be a legal challenge to 'sunset' clauses. Whether you read them or not when you open the product packaging or click on the 'install' button, you ought to expect the one-machine use of the product in its supplied state, unless there are clearly explained exceptional reasons. Anything else would be a breach of the normal balance of trust between the user and the supplier. In the US, this sort of thing ought to attract federal anti-trust suits.

    • Re:Yup. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pubjames (468013)
      I can't blame them. It takes effort to continually support old versions. This affects the bottom line. Companies(especially public ones) are all about making money.

      Why is it that so many people seem to believe that the only criteria that applies to anything is money? As if companies are complete independent of people, a force all unto themselves.

      Remember that the basic dictionary definition of company is "a group of people". If a group of people want to screw you over because they can and it's profitable, they can choose to do that. Just because the group of people is acting as a "company" does not resolve them of moral and ethical responsibilities.
      • Think of a "group of people" brought together for one purpose. If that purpose is business, then making a profit is what they are all about. In the United States business schools probably teach as much ethics as they do in the computer science program I graduated from ( A 1 Semester hour course, as compared to 3 for normal classes ). Businesses do not exist to promote good ethics. They exist to make money. Please don't misunderstand me. Making money is not inherently bad ( hm. Or is it? ). But our society places great emphasis on it. Bill Gates is an admired man in business circles. There are those of us in the Information Technolody industry who may loathe him and his company, but if you speak with people outside the industry you find admiration more than anything else. He made it! All that said, what these companies are doing is trying to clean up their bottom line. Not providing support for products that they no longer make isn't inherently wrong. But I must admit that they tend to expire they products rather frequently. I tend to believe that they are doing this not so much because they are minimizing support costs, but are trying to maximize sales of new products. Hence they are "screwing people over".

        • by pubjames (468013) on Friday December 14, 2001 @10:56AM (#2704118)
          Think of a "group of people" brought together for one purpose. If that purpose is business, then making a profit is what they are all about. In the United States business schools probably teach as much ethics as they do in the computer science program I graduated from ( A 1 Semester hour course, as compared to 3 for normal classes ). Businesses do not exist to promote good ethics. They exist to make money.

          This is so sad. "Hey, so we do bad things, we have no choice, we're a business!"

          You do have a choice. Employees have a choice. Shareholders have a choice. Company managers have a choice.

          I am Managing Director (that's CEO to you) of an IT company. A lot of my clients are reasonably ignorant about IT. It would be fairly easy for me to lie to them and sell them products and services that they don't really need, or deliberately lock them into solutions that it will be difficult for them to get out of again. It would probably make my company more profitable, and I know of companies that do it. But you know what? I don't do it. Why? Because it's wrong. When I deal with my clients, I am dealing with people. I don't think to myself "Hey, I can fuck these ignorant guys over and make lots of money." To me, and I would hope to most people, my personal values are more important than getting rich.

          I imagine that Bill Gates rocks himself to sleep at night thinking "I've got all those suckers locked in and now I can raise prices and they can do nothing about it! What a bunch of losers! I'm the king of the world!" I know people like Bill Gates are highly respected in America, but they aren't so much in my corner of the world - they're seen as greedy, selfish ego-maniacs.
          • I'd be willing to bet that Bill Gates actually believes that people buy Windows because they think it is a great product. Not because they are tied in with no other feasible choices, but because they genuinely prefer Windows to any of the alternatives. In a cyclical way, he is right. Windows is the best choice for most consumers and developers because most people choose it.

            Still, less and less people are going to keep upgrading. I remember the rush to 2000, it was on everyone's minds. We have no plan for moving to XP. I'm not saying we won't, but there isn't any frenzy, no meetings starting 6 months before the release to discuss strategy. While I'm sure this happened some places, I'd be surprised if it is happening as much. Maybe it's a down economy, or many people are happy with what they have.

            I think an equitable solution to the antitrust case is to force microsoft to offer licenses for their old software. Not necessarily support, but licenses. Once 2K is not offered, how are we going to expand (we do have about 20 extra licenses right now, but we could go through those easily)?
          • I am Managing Director (that's CEO to you) of an IT company. A lot of my clients are reasonably ignorant about IT. It would be fairly easy for me to lie to them and sell them products and services that they don't really need, or deliberately lock them into solutions that it will be difficult for them to get out of again. It would probably make my company more profitable, and I know of companies that do it. But you know what? I don't do it. Why? Because it's wrong. When I deal with my clients, I am dealing with people. I don't think to myself "Hey, I can fuck these ignorant guys over and make lots of money." To me, and I would hope to most people, my personal values are more important than getting rich.

            Also small businesses, especially where they face competition, rely a lot on keeping on good terms with their customers and personal recommendations. Whilst attempting to rip off your custmers might get quite a bit of money short term long term it means you have no customers.
            To a large company it's a case of "plenty more fish in the sea" to a monopoly it's a case of "so where else do they think they can go?"
            • Also small businesses, especially where they face competition, rely a lot on keeping on good terms with their customers and personal recommendations.

              This isn't just true of small businesses. It is also true of larger ones, at least in the UK. The most successful companies are very often the ones that "do the right thing." Virgin, The Body Shop, Easy Jet, The Co-op Bank, Marks & Spensers, John Lewis and many other large UK-based companies have been successful in part because they have strong ethical policies. In the UK (and even more so in other European countries) companies that do not "do the right thing" tend to be less successful and generally villified.
      • Look, if you are a CEO of a public company, you are hired by the shareholders. You get fired if you don't produce. If you are a sales executive, you get fired for a bad quarter. A company DOES exist only to make money, unless it is a private company run by an idealistic owner (very rare. They tend to go out of business pretty quick).
    • While your statements are pretty accurate, they're slightly missing the point, I think. The subset clause isn't about support, it's about licensing. These things arbitrarily make it illegal for you to continue using your software after a certain time. There is no technical basis for this; it's purely a means to force you to upgrade.

      As a hypothetical example, suppose I have an old 486 running Windows 95 and Office 95, and it works and does its job well enough for my purposes. Why should I be forced to throw it away and upgrade to the latest and greatest, at vast cost to me, for no particular benefit? (NB: As far as I'm aware, Microsoft don't actually have a policy like this on the products concerned. This is not a Redmond slam.)

    • by jmccay (70985)
      One small problem. Not all software should require an upgrade. My father didn't get a new version of MS Office until he got a new computer. Not everybody can afford to purchase the latest version of software just because a company says it's great and the software license runs out. Facts of the matter are customer don't want to have to relearn stuff all that often.
      With that said, I should say I understand not supporting older versions, but a 1 year or less life cycle for software? Some software is expensive, and companies should really consider keeping a few version alive to allow the customer to get some wear and tear on the product. I can understand killing older software if it's been more than 3 years and there have been _MAJOR_ changes to the software, but if it's only a couple of small minor things, the older software should stay alive.
      If this trend keeps up, I think some of these companies will find that their customers will seek alternatives to their products. This could be good for the Open Source world if we get our act together. We'll need to be a little friendlier to nebies.
  • by mpicker0 (411333) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:32AM (#2703500)
    A company can only be expected to support a prior version for so long. We develop vertical market apps, and support a single major revision back.

    But what I'd also like to see is older versions being made free (as in beer) after a specfied time. DOS 6.0 and Win 3.11, old Amiga games, whatever. Since there's no real potential for those to ever make a profit again, why not help the handful of people who may still be able to make some use of them?
    • But what I'd also like to see is older versions being made free (as in beer) after a specfied time.

      I agree with you here. I love Borland [borland.com] for releasing their old Turbo C and Pascal environments.

      But with some software, such as the anti-virus software mentioned in the article, the old versions aren't really useful. If they released the source maybe, but that's pretty unlikely.

    • Because, unless you've packed so much good stuff into your new version, people will use your old one and decide not to ever buy your current one.

      It's sad but true.

      There's no magic rule for this, though. I happily use an FTP client that's several years old. I also play C64 emulated games. I'm not going to get a new FTP client any time soon, but I still got Return 2 C Wolf because C64 games don't scratch the same itch (multiplayer eyecandy immersion).
    • But what I'd also like to see is older versions being made free (as in beer) after a specfied time. DOS 6.0 and Win 3.11, old Amiga games, whatever. Since there's no real potential for those to ever make a profit again, why not help the handful of people who may still be able to make some use of them?

      Sure the old version of the product may not give the company any profit, but having the older version deprives the company from potential sales of the current version.

      For example if Microsoft were to give away SQL Server 6.5 because they no longer support it (this is a hypothetical, they may well still support it) then someone might use that instead of buying SQL Server XP (or whatever it's called now).

      Sure maybe MS is a bad example, but it's all about making money not doing what's potentially good for the community (actually, maybe MS _is_ a good example :) ).

      • by Anonymous Coward
        ahem, we still use SQL6.5 corperate wide and told microsoft to bugger off on an upgrade. 7.0 and 2000 offer NOTHING to us.

        when told it was unsupported, we made the salesman mad with the obligratory , "cince when has microsoft offered any useable support? we have had to support all microsoft products In house with people and firms that are not a part of the microsoft empire. Microsoft doesnt offer support."

        with that I'm sure he marked us as trouble makers and scheduled an audit.... and my boss will not let them in without a warrant from a judge :-)
    • I'm still running a copy of Windows 95 and PC DOS 5.0. The DOS machine is the best serial and LAN port sniffer debugger I have. I got tired of the install DOS, then Windows 3.1, then Windows 95 upgrade, SR patch 1 and 2 each time I needed to reformat the hardrive. I also stuck to it on one machine for my favorite older software. It also came without IE! It is my main web browser machine. It does not run VBS scripts! I decided not to upgrade, but see if they ever would get it fixed. They didn't. I do not buy OS upgrades from MS anymore. The only new OS I get is when I get new hardware. Due to the never buy the first version rule, I have never tried Windows ME, 2000, XP, etc. (I know 2000 is a rework of NT, don't flame. I use NT at work) None of these are to the 3rd gen yet. I do have Win CE ver 3.0 in a hand held PC and it has a bug (feature). I want to use at as a protable diagnostic dumb terminal using the serial port. It insists on dialing your external modem using the terminal program! It will not proceed without you filling in the dialog box for the phone number you wish to dial. No option to change it. I had to get another terminal program to get past this and disable the always in the way active sync. Even 3rd gen leaves a lot to be desired. I have no idea if the 4th gen (Pocket PC) has fixed any of this. I'm hoping Linux will get ported to the HP Jornada 680 hand held PC. That would fix lots of the problems. I know not to buy XP due to the forced upgrade cycle. Buying the first version was a huge mistake with Windows 95. I installed it from the CD. After install it couldn't find the sound card, modem, and of all things, the CD drive it was installed from. It will not work on new hardware. It will not work with USB at all. (OSR 2 required) and will not work with AGP video. (unless you prefer 16 color (not million color, 16 color) at a max resolution of 640 X 480) My machine which I was going to use to replace the WIN 95 machine got Linux instead. It recognised all the hardware except the sound on the first try. On new hardware with a new OS, I work with the dealer to get all the bugs worked out. I don't buy an OS upgrade and put it on old hardware. This takes care of BSA risks and hardware problems. I do not buy software with any expiration date on the box other than the usual tax and anti virus stuff that needs kept up to date for external reasons.
  • Good or Bad thing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grid geek (532440) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:34AM (#2703503) Homepage
    Is this trend to rent software actually a bad thing for companies? I work mostly in research/academia so a lot of our software is done in house and we dont have this problem (and the remainder's Linux etc) but I'd assume that both sides in business would benefit - the seller gets a constant revenue stream, no major bumps like the currently get with new releases (at least after Bug Fix 1 gets released *grin*) and the purchaser gets to see a fixed cost each quater rather than one off costs.

    Ok, for the individual its not a good thing and don't get me started on the privacy issues of product activation but for a lot of things a continual rental model would be better and may stop quite the same level of boom & bust in the industry.

    Well thats my $0.02 worth. Any opions from our corporate bretheran?
  • by blackcoot (124938) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:35AM (#2703505)
    And the computer industry in general has demonstrated that the concept of ethics no longer applies when there is money at stake. Read the average EULA: you have to surrender fundamental rights, such as fair use. Worse than that, the developers generally absolve themselves of any responsibility or liability whatsoever -- they won't even guarantee that the software that you have just bought will do what they claim it does! What we're seeing is the culmination of an unfortunate trend. The creators of a piece of software for as long as they control it have a monopoly -- anyone committed to using their product is pretty much at their mercy. And that means money -- lots of money.
    • by grid geek (532440) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:40AM (#2703511) Homepage
      On the other hand the UK gets around this by declaring that even if the consumer agrees to the EULA initially to install the software they still have all their legal rights for fair use, reliability etc. For example I could agree to the EULA of a CD-RW drive/software saying I will not copy music CD's, however UK legislation allows me to make a backup copy of any software or media which is in a format which could be damaged or destroyed so long as it is for my use only. Despite agreeing to the EULA I couldn't be prosecuted for piracy unless I distributed it.

      So all we need is well worded legislation which protects the consumer at the cost of big business ... good luck with Congress.
      • Unfortunately, that is not the case in the US. The UK still believes in nicities such as basic consumer protection and the principle of fair use as established by the Statute of Anne and is willing to protect its citizens' inviolate rights. Unfortunately, the US government, for whatever reasons, have decided to whore out the rights of its citizens in exchange for increased corporate revenues and, as a result, increased taxes (not to mention all those nice PAC campaign contributions). Hate to break it to you, but the folks in the US are phuqed. The DMCA et al have pretty much given big companies carte blanche to milk consumers for all they're worth.
        • Unfortunately, that is not the case in the US. The UK still believes in nicities such as basic consumer protection and the principle of fair use as established by the Statute of Anne and is willing to protect its citizens' inviolate rights.

          Actually the principle is the same. Just that the details of the "law of the land". An EULA as a contract operates within the the law, as defined by statutes and court decisions. It cannot modify or supercede them.
          A common technique you will find in all sorts of contractual agreements is to include a clause saying "if any part of this is void then the rest still stands" combined with clauses which are either of questionable legality sometimes directly against the law. On the basis that most people reading it will not know what their actual legal rights are.

          Unfortunately, the US government, for whatever reasons, have decided to whore out the rights of its citizens in exchange for increased corporate revenues and, as a result, increased taxes (not to mention all those nice PAC campaign contributions). Hate to break it to you, but the folks in the US are phuqed.

          Maybe, maybe not. The US is somewhat complication, since it is a federal republic, with a constitution limiting what the federal government can and can't do. Further each state has it's own constitution and binding laws can be made by entities such as cities.
  • Support costs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mgebbers (252737)
    I am paying for something of value to me and it costs them something to maintain this data.

    If companies support (even at a cost) older products (take Ed's example of partition magic), it *does* cost the company money to train their support staff, and often the number of (paid) calls coming through asking help aren't enough to warrant the extra education for staff...
  • Is this news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slayer99 (15543)
    Microsoft have been successfully applying this business model for years. Why bother to fix old code when you can sell an upgrade to the latest version with this year's fashionable look?
  • by Boiling_point_ (443831) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:41AM (#2703513) Homepage
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  • by jweatherley (457715) <james@nOsPam.weatherley.net> on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:42AM (#2703514) Homepage
    This forced obsolescence is evil. If you collect old arcade machines you come across a similar problem - the suicide battery. Certain Japanese manufacturers [www.sega.jp] had a small amount of battery powered RAM that held the decryption tables to decode the game ROMs - when the battery goes your cabinet is useless!

    Why? Why? Why? If I buy something I expect it to work and I certainly don't expect the manufacturer to put a time bomb in it! Same goes for software. The problem boils down to the fact that you don't own the software - you just get a licence to use it under whatever restrictive clauses the vendor can dream up. There's certainly something to be said for genuinely free software - once you've got it it is your's to do with as you please.
  • by bluemilker (264421) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:43AM (#2703515) Homepage
    To be honest, I had not thought that much about "software licensing" up till this point, mainly because it seems to me that entrepreneurial hackers will always find a way around that type of thing. But when a piece of software actually requires connection to a corporate server to continue functioning (as with a virusscan program), this seems to fall only slightly short of blackmail.
    Diablo II automatically updated software when you logged onto Battle.net. Imagine if one day, everyone who logged on recieved with their "update" a notice that from now on, all character classes but barbarian would be available on a subscription-based service only.
    Ridiculous, yes... but the analogy is apt. People who bought something 4 years ago with a certain promise of functionality deserve to be able to keep that functionality.
    What if car manufacturers randomly repo'ed our cars because they figured the engines were out of date?
    • Diablo II automatically updated software when you logged onto Battle.net....People who bought something 4 years ago with a certain promise of functionality deserve to be able to keep that functionality

      Hmmm. But if you buy a piece of software that depends on the internet, how long should a company support it? Let's say interest for battle.net fell off dramatically in four years, so that only a few hundred people were playing it. Should the company continue to support the service? Should they support it after twenty years? I'm not trying to nix your point, which is valid, it just got me thinking.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Try using Autocad for a while.....i don't care if they no longer support older versons...but deciding when the older versions can no longer be upgraded is damn close to blackmail....unless you pay the upgrade price then and there....you'll have to buy complete versions and full price.

    for a $25 piece of software?....fair enough

    for $1000s of dollars worth of software...they have a responsibility to thier customers to retain the value of the software _especially_ when the licenses are non transferrable _and_ hardware/software locked.
    • I worked for a Arch. firm for 2 years... the first time I priced AutoCAD 2000 (for 20 licenses) and I saw the cost, I thought the founders would flip.

      They didn't even bat an eyelid at the cost.

      The thing with AutoCAD is it is GOOD software... not perfect, but my roommate, a drafter at the time, could do thousands of dollars of work a day with autocad. Take that times 10 (not every one who used it was a straight up drafter) and the AutoCAD licenses paid for themselves weekly. And the versions (i.e. R14 to 2000) had changes that made it worth while.

      AutoCAD is worth it becuase it works, and the founders knew it.
  • It's just wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Katravax (21568) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:44AM (#2703518)
    I know all the arguments about how it's a corporation's responsibility to maximize profits for their shareholders, etc., but the only thing I see here is greed. I see people being laid off left and right while CEOs take home bonuses that would have paid all those salaries for another year. I see cuts made in quality and higher charges made for support while the price of the products go up. I see employees put on salary and threatened into working long hours for no extra consideration. When the fuck did money become more important than everything else?

    I probably sound pollyannish saying that when I pay for something, I want to use it how I see fit. I know all the college kids are going to start whining that I should use Linux instead, but I don't like Linux, as much as I've tried, so I guess I just have to take whatever crap the corps feed me. I've been a victim of the PowerQuest upgrade cycle myself, and it pisses me off as much as it pisses the next guy off. The software isn't worth $50 per year, but that's what they manage to drag out of me because of their harsh policies.

    But more than the sunset clauses, more than crappy software, the greed makes me shake my head. When is enough money enough? What is gained by adding another couple million to your own bank account when there are so many there already? In the end, you're going to die anyway, so at least make the world a better place rather than just stuffing your money chest fuller. Do these people care that no one likes them? Do they care that they're despised and all their plebs would ditch them at the first opportunity? Has greed outweighed every other thing in life? It looks to me like it has.
    • I probably sound pollyannish saying that when I pay for something, I want to use it how I see fit. I know all the college kids are going to start whining that I should use Linux instead, but I don't like Linux, as much as I've tried, so I guess I just have to take whatever crap the corps feed me.


      Don't you think that just the fact that basically the ONLY possible answer is "use Linux" (or any other free-software OS system) is a very good indicator of how bad the situation is?

      I'm not talking about Microsoft monopoly, but of a general trend of the market (as it was already pointed out by someone else) to force updates, or, better, to convert sale into subscription. We see it more in the software market because the lifecycle is much shorter (both for technical - fast evolution - and economical - mantaining current profits - reasons), but it happens also in other markets.
      I mean, it's NATURAL that with the advance of technology old things become obsolete, but it's a bad sign when, as you point out, the whole thing becomes just a strategy to "maximize profit".

      If the software market is the one where it's most visible, it's somewhat counter-balanced by the free software community. The same approach does not work as well for "real" objects (even if e.g. in the case of old cars you have clubs of fans who exchange parts/experience to mantain them).

      You'll forgive me then if the only answer I can provide is to start whining that you should use linux :) (I do and I like it.....) (BTW the very same happens with linux, just look at the amount of updates which you must apply because otherwise things break, but at least you don't have to pay for them....).

      • Don't you think that just the fact that basically the ONLY possible answer is "use Linux" (or any other free- software OS system) is a very good indicator of how bad the situation is?
        That was a stupid thing I said about "college kids", but I guess what I mean is that some of us are supporting families and have real responsibilities and use the computer professionally, so we can't afford a "free or die" attitude that usually pops up when there's a complaint with commercial closed software.

        I want to be treated like a paying customer by the companies I buy software from. I want to buy something and even if it is unsupported past a certain point, I don't want to be intentionally locked out. You put it very well that the entire thing is used as a way to maximize profit. That makes me feel like I'm viewed as a "consumer" rather than a "customer". My software is a tool to do what I want to do, not a vessel for me to put another million in the CEOs pocket. If he earns the money, great, but don't screw me and my past patronage to get it.

    • When is enough money enough? What is gained by adding another couple million to your own bank account when there are so many there already? In the end, you're going to die anyway, so at least make the world a better place rather than just stuffing your money chest fuller. Do these people care that no one likes them? Do they care that they're despised and all their plebs would ditch them at the first opportunity? Has greed outweighed every other thing in life?

      Publicly traded corporations have Boards and CEO's who are responsible to the shareholders. The company has a charter which in most cases states that the Board is _required_ to run the company in a way which "maximizes profits" for the shareholders. If they do not do this they will be sued and/or replaced by the shareholders. This is why you see corps doing such patently unethical things as laying off all their enmployees and re-hiring them at reduced salaries, or "outsourcing" labour to third-world contractors, or polluting and then paying the fines when it's cheaper than not polluting would be! They have to not only _make a profit_, but in fact MAXIMIZE profits, no matter what. The shareholders, and in many cases the Board, care _nothing_ for what anybody thinks of them, unless it impacts those profits. Then it's time for a little creative marketing, not acting ethically.

      That's why I'm a (democratic) socialist. Un- or under-regulated capitalism inevitably slides into depravity and unimaginable greed.

      • Publicly traded corporations have Boards and CEO's who are responsible to the shareholders. The company has a charter which in most cases states that the Board is _required_ to run the company in a way which "maximizes profits" for the shareholders.
        . And this is what pisses me off. Nowhere is the customer considered. What ever happened to the concept of corporations having a charter to operate in the public interest? All this stuff so many companies have been pulling lately doesn't seem to be in the public interest -- it's strictly in their shareholders' interests.

        Whether they're required to operate this way or not doesn't make greed okay. I also want things, but I always provide fair return for what I get; it's only right that way. As a customer, I don't feel like I get that in return from most transactions, though.

  • I work in IT for a well-known/respected Fortune 100 and we get hit with this all the time.

    The s/w vendors know we (and others like us):

    • have lots of money
    • have a majority of IT employees who are either mainframe rejects or have little more expertise than "click next"
    • have no time to waste on making the vendor do the right thing (since they put off what they should be doing for so long)
    • are looking for a way to do as little as possible, thus enjoy the fact that they can "hide" and become an "expert" at having the vendor come in and re-install s/w every 1-2 years.

    Look at stuff like MS-Word/Exchange/Outlook/OE. Are there *really* many more features in each that warrant the massive recycling of s/w that most large institutions go through regularly?

    It's getting just as bad with the app server markets as well. Vendors conveniently dropping support for older (their own) products (when the apps are running just fine for us) or for the OS level our stuff runs on just to have to buy new licenses (despite the fact that we do pay "maintenance" yearly).

    When I compare those with personal programs like MusicMatch and Xmanager - both with lifetime licenses and very decent feature-rich updates - it's hard to let the others justify their practices.

  • Transparency? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mr-spam-uk (252016)
    It wouldn't be so bad if when you pruchased a license to use their product you were offered:
    option a:
    Pay more for the license NOW, support guarenteed for 10 years.
    option b:
    Pay less for the license NOW, support for 2 years, then subscrition support thereafter.

    If they justify re-charging to cover support costs then this is a far more honest way of doing it.
    If they wanna characge because their product license has expired, then tough.
    After all nodoby buys a product 'software', just a license to use software. If the license has limited lifetime perhaps consumers in this market economy should shop elsewhere?
  • by cperciva (102828) on Friday December 14, 2001 @07:51AM (#2703529) Homepage
    I bought a 1989 Honda Civic 12 years ago, and it's starting to get old. A bit of rust here and there, occasionally it has trouble starting... the sort of things you often hear about with old cars.

    I wanted to replace it with a new car, but guess what? They don't make 1989 Honda Civics any more. If I want a new car, they tell me, I'll have to buy the latest model, which not only looks different and is more expensive, but would require me to learn an entirely new UI.

    Somehow I don't buy (no pun intended) that the engine for building a car has changed again.
    • Yes, but I'm still driving my 1988 Honda Civic, and when I take it to the mechanic they don't tell me "Sorry, we can't fix that one for you any more, but we'll be happy to sell you this year's model for twice the price." It also doesn't have a license that says that I'm breaking the law if I open the hood to figure out how it works, and why it's making that whirring noise.
      • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Friday December 14, 2001 @08:50AM (#2703595) Journal
        Honda doesn't mind if you open the hood to tweak your car, and you know why ?

        Do you know how much equipment you need to make a perfect copy of a Civic ? do you know how much this said equipment cost ?

        Ford has the equipment, knowledge and $$$ to do this, but if they do Honda WILL fill a law suit aleging lots of patents and copyright infringment. As a result Ford rathers design theyr own models.

        Know, what kind of equipment do you need to make a perfect copy of a software ? how much does it cost ?

        You just need a computer with a CD burner. anyone can buy one for less tha US$ 2.000,00 and doing the copy is a nobrainer. THAT'S why software makers DO mind if you start to tweak with their products.

        You want to tweak your software ? fix that litle anoyance you found ? Use free (as in freedom) software. Linux, Hurd, GNU, whatever... The guys who develop the code does't mind if you take a look or change what they did.
    • by allanj (151784)

      Let me guess - you run DOS and Win 3.11 apps too? Can't seem to find that MS Word 2000 thing for Win 3.11...


      Seriously, does replacing an '89 Civic require you to learn an entirely new UI? Did the pedals move? Have they been replaced by a joystick? No speedometer or fuel-gauge anymore? Point is, of course it doesn't require you to learn any new UI - it's still a car. There are no fundamentally new things you can do with a '01 model that you couldn't do with a '89 model. Or vice versa.


      Little changes yes - entirely new UI, no.

    • There is a problem with anology's : the comparasion does not work in the end.

      If you compare it with antivirus software: you can still get repairs on you old Civic. (is this the same as paid software updates?)

      If you want to replace it you will get a different car, but it has still the same user interface. There may be some new bells and whissles, but there is a very small learning time.

      But then the anology goes wrong. You can still make perfect copies of your old software. Technically you can take your 1 software package and install it to 100's of PC on your site. Or rolout word'98 to the next 100 you buy. If they make it impossible to buy licences (pay them..) the technical possible becomes illigal. How would you compare that to your 12 year old civic? And a virus signature update is not exactly the same as repair, maybe it should be compared with a oil change.

      And we are talking 1-2 year in software, not 12 year....
    • And I bought a 1989 Ford Escort 12 years ago, and contrary to intuition, it's as good as new. Indeed, it is indistinguishable from a brand new 1989 model Ford Escort.

      Now Ford just called me the other day, and said that if I wanted to continue driving, I'd have to purchase a 2002 model Ford, because my current car would stop working at the end of the year.

      Somehow I don't buy (no pun intended) that the environment has changed to such a degree that my current car is incapable of taking me from A to B nowadays.
    • If your car turns out to be defective off the lot, you can claim fraud.

      Not so with software.

      If your car bursts into flames like the pinto, you can sue.

      If your computer crashes, you can flame the company.

      And when I buy a car, I don't have to sign a contract regarding whose house I can drive it to, whether or not I can drive it to work or whether honda owns the work that I produce when I get to work.

      When I bought software from macromedia as a student, the shrinkwrap liscense said that I couldn't use the stuff for commercial purposes and the store said they wouldn't accept the product for a refund as the EULA said they would if I didn't agree with it.
  • The days old... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dreamquick (229454) on Friday December 14, 2001 @08:01AM (#2703537) Homepage
    As much as it pains me to point this out:

    The days of buying a product for a fixed fee with which includes lifetime support and upgrades are over.

    Even as cynical as I am it's obvious that particular business model wont work, even as much as I like it.

    The purchase model is continually trying to be killed off and replaced with the subscription based model as this allows for much more consistent balance sheets - take the two cases:

    you have X users each paying Y every year

    you have X users who paid Y for our product and if they like it they might pay Z in the future, but only if they choose to upgrade.

    Which one do you think sounds more palatable to the board - one off payments or regular payments?

    Counter-arguements such as the model for products like WinZip spring to mind - they still provide a cheap registration with lifetime support and upgrades but I'd imagine their mission is to get at least some of that massive userbase to register.

    Realistically I'd be happy to have a product that I buy then pay to upgrade every few years (cough cough windows) but i start to resent that upgrade cost when it is almost identical to the cost of buying a new copy (cough cough windows).

    Also you have to bear in mind that whenever a new windows version comes along the UI changes and so there is a mad clamour to change your programs to make them feel like they too are part of this new UI. Products that look ugly don't sell well to the masses so it pays to keep your software looking neat, tidy and user-friendly.

    If you will try to sell me a product and then a year or two along the line try to offer me a cheap upgrade (e.g. Paint Shop Pro) then fine, I'll buy if you've added new features - however if you haven't and it's the same product in a new bundle with a .01 added to the version number, I'm sure your competition has been working on better features in the meantime {evil grin}.

    What I really resent is this latest trend of having to buy a physical product AS WELL AS pay a subscription fee (most PVR's) - either choose one method or the other if you want me as a customer, as both simply leaves me to look at your competition.
  • Obselescence (Score:2, Interesting)

    by blkros (304521)
    Seems like they are using the auto industry model, where people upgrade their cars every 2 years(except for the poor who have to keep them til they fall apart). The problem with that is that cars are mechanical, and do tend to wear out. Software, on the other hand, is just electrons, that are good for as long as the medium that holds them isn't corrupted. It is a new type of product, and the companies need to find a new way of making money off of it, but most of them aren't looking, they are just using the old models. Suprising how conservitive this *cutting edge* industry is.
    • Seems like they are using the auto industry model, where people upgrade their cars every 2 years(except for the poor who have to keep them til they fall apart)

      The idea of the annual model change was invented to help the US motor industry. Because cars didn't fall apart quickly enough.

      The problem with that is that cars are mechanical, and do tend to wear out.

      But not that quickly, there is no good reason why you shouldn't expect a car to last on average at least 15 years or so. People upgrade their cars every 2 years because of fashion, not because they have worn out. (People and companies who use vehicles commercially would be outraged if they only got 2 years use out of their cars, vans, trucks, ships, buses, trains, aircraft, etc.)

      Software, on the other hand, is just electrons, that are good for as long as the medium that holds them isn't corrupted.

      Or more likely the hardware need to run the software "rusts", which could be a long time

      It is a new type of product, and the companies need to find a new way of making money off of it, but most of them aren't looking, they are just using the old models.

      They are using old models because they work and because they can get laws bent to make them work better.
  • by 12dec0de (26853)
    I doubt that this is an issue of ehtics or support costs.

    It is an problem of the business modell of selling software as a boxed product. This modell is only viable if you have a snowball market like MicroSoft enjoyed in previous years. But they are not typical for other vendors that have fixed market size. There are only so many people in the US that use Bookkeeping software. And it cannot be sold abroad.

    While the support cost are something that acrues only after you have sold the software, there is also the next development cycle to pay for. The worst thing that could happen to a vendor of boxed software is that the old version is 'good enough' for the customer.

    Why do I use a emacs, an editor that is 20 years old? Because with version 19 it was just good enough to support what I need. That was like 6-7 years ago. Yes I now have v21, because it came with my SuSE, but while I would have payed for the v19, I would never have upgraded.

    Microsoft has realized this problem many years ago, and has been mellowing the customers with rumours about 'only-by-subscription' licenses, ever since it became apperent to them that their market is about to be saturated and that people will stop bying new licenses. And that even with the Redmond-Tax on new computers, which ensures that units are sold everytime somebody buys a new computer. But guess what. That market will soon be saturated as well. Apart from OC-Geeks and Hardcore Gamers today PCs are just 'fast enough' for most users.

    Wellcome to the new world of subscription based Software. Did you realize that this will put OpenSource on a even more even footing with the proprietory kind, as the costs become easily comparable. Maybe that is why Microsoft fears OpenSource. Not because of the Windows-Linux comparison, but because of the ability to sell support for StarOffice cheaply.

    my EUR 0.02

    • It is an problem of the business modell of selling software as a boxed product.

      Effectivly what the advantages of being able to sell the product as "boxed goods", but not have the customer able to use any "consumer protection" laws or to be able to say "I bought it, it's mine, I'll do what I like with it". Combined with a "licence" more applicable to the software supplier being contracted to write the software. But without the customer being able to renegotiate such a contract.
  • Well, given that you're getting an improved/updated product, it makes sense that the companies are trying to recoup some of the costs of developing/supporting this. You *do* have the choice of using the old product, even if it is not (anymore) optimally suited to what you need it to do.

    It would be a different matter if the product would stop working after a certain amount of months/years but this case is about updating a product to handle changed market/security condsiderations. Would you buy a hammer which was designed to break after having hit a nail 1000 times? Probably not. Would you buy a new and radically improved hammer if it offered compelling features that the old hammer didnt? Probably.

    The irony is that there's an entire industry feeding of the security holes in Microsoft's product line. If everyone were running Linux/xxBSD/UNIX, there would be no Anti-Virus software industry, at least certainly not one as big as we have it today.
    • Would you buy a hammer which was designed to break after having hit a nail
      1000 times? Probably not. Would you buy a new and radically improved hammer if it offered compelling features that the old hammer didnt?


      Depends if the new and improved hammer was actually an improvment in terms of actually doing the job in question. If it was simply painted a silly colour or made a different noise when it hit a nail then that probably isn't the best kind of reason to want the new one.
      This is the issue with software "updates", the newer version isn't always the best tool for the job.
  • by gaj (1933) on Friday December 14, 2001 @08:41AM (#2703583) Homepage Journal
    On the one hand, it's a simple fact that a company cannot afford to support a product line in perpetuity. We "End of Life" old products eventually, but we do it over a reasonable period of time. Our users get something like five years fair warning. Even then, it's not like the stuff stops working; we simply stop supporting it (unless a special support contract has been arranged for) and stop updating the sw & fw.

    It's a simple matter of focus. We cannot provide the high level of support we want to if we spread our support staff too thinly. Neither can we create new and better product if our engineering cycles are stuck frobbing and tweaking the old stuff.

    Granted, by the time EoF is reached, the product pretty much just works. And no one is stopping anyone from using it forever. But a company can only keep its left foot so far behind its right foot before it falls on its ass. Ok, strained metaphore, but the point is still valid, IMHO.

    On the other hand, sw or hw that just stops working (or starts extorting) after a period of time is just wrong . Again, dropping support (including things like anti-virus updates) after a while is just fine. Many products really do need to evolve. Using sw to hold your customer hostage, on the other hand ...

    Imagine a word processor that, at the designated EoL, would only come up and say "I'm sorry, Dave. I don't think I can do that. Please see your software retailer for the latest version of WordFrob, which may well allow you to open your old files, if you hurry!". Or a mail server that, when EoL is reached, sends a message to the BSA when you try to send mail with it, resulting in jack-booted thugs at your door shortly later.

    Anyway, though I think some of what was mentioned in the artical was iffy, most of it was perfectly understandable. Much of the whining, bitching and moaning here is just uninformed tripe. Though I concede that there are companies out there that really do their best to keep users on an upgrade treadmill, most companies just want to put out new and better product. I wish that at some point Intel would have grown a pair and pulled the plug on many of the crap in their processor design that's only there for backwards compatability. Not all at once, of course, but a sliding window of support makes perfect sense, both economically and technically.

    #include // my opinions are my own, not my employer's and all that

  • This is great! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday December 14, 2001 @08:43AM (#2703588) Homepage
    I hope all closed source companies do this, hell I hope thay make it a 6 month cycle.

    things like this will make OSS more and more attractive to the users out there.

    I just love it when you see an entire industry slitting their own throats and bleeding to death slowly.
    • Re:This is great! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Graymalkin (13732)
      Wow you mean I can have a bunch of volunteers writing anti-virus programs for my company? Wow that sounds great. I bet the release shedule will be regular and punctual and I can get support by calling all of the development team's home phone numbers because they're going to provide support for me too! Oh I can't wait. Since it is open source it HAS to be better than a company with lots of money it can put into development costs. It will also be easy to use and stable imediately I bet! Joe Sixpack can download and install it with no problem whatsoever. Man that will be so great. I can't wait for those companies to go under either. Open source solves everyone's problems!
  • by linuxrunner (225041) on Friday December 14, 2001 @08:52AM (#2703598) Homepage
    Software companies from just about day one, have been doing this.
    Call it what you want, a "sunset clause", a "bomb", etc. Basically the software expires and you must pay up for another.

    The main cause of this isn't closed source software, but lack of competition.

    It's the lack of competition that allows the companies to do this. Obviously if there was another software service you could buy from, you would, wouldn't you?
    Even today there are a lot of small industries that buy software with these "expiration dates" in them because they have no where else to go, and can not afford to pay someone to write their own code.

    To all you up and coming developers.... find these markets and make software for them. It won't make you rich, but it's a start....

    • It's the lack of competition that allows the companies to do this. Obviously if there was another software service you could buy from, you would, wouldn't you? Even today there are a lot of small industries that buy software with these "expiration dates" in them because they have no where else to go, and can not afford to pay someone to write their own code

      My company puts expiration dates in the licensing. It's more of a way to make sure that company is current with the newest versions for support and maintenence purposes, and that they have access to the newest feature set. We don't have the resources support something that's 3 years old, and most of the bug reports and feature requests we get about older products have already been addressed. We charge a maintenence fee each year after purchase, which covers support as well as automatic updates to the newest versions when they come out. If the company doesn't want to continue to pay maintenence (which is much cheaper than initial investment costs for buying our software, or a competitor's), we'll issue them a permanent license for the old version, but we won't support it.

    • Excellent point!

      I was thinking... You know, since companies drop support (and thus, money making opportunity) of old software, what if that software was made a public domain thing? That way, competent people could very well found a small company providing support for that software, which would be a win-win-win situation: business can either get support from Smallcompany or upgrade the software; Smallcompany lives an honnest business life, adding competition and diversity to the marketplace; Bigcorp can stop worrying about supporting the old software. Of course, there are always certain corps who see sunset clauses as a way to squeeze always more money from you, and /they/ wouldn't be too fond of a system such as that one, but heck. Free markets are good only when they ARE free.

      I know that is not going to happen, but eh, one can dream...
      • You know, since companies drop support (and thus, money making opportunity) of old software, what if that software was made a public domain thing?

        Because then the old software could end up in competition with the new stuff they are trying to sell. e.g. if the old stuff does everything people actually want it to do.
        The only way of doing this would be by statute. i.e. ammend copyright law such that the maximum term is somewhere between 5 and 10 years and that if a copy is not deposited into one or more designated "libraries" at that time any profits from the software are treated as originating from an illegal source.
        Currently old software can effectivly be hidden for nearly a century.
    • Some of the best examples I can see for software that need upgrades are software that has data that becomes outdated. Examples are phone books on CD, Map programs, Tax programs, anti virus signature files and such. Software that does not need upgraded are good text editors, (except the usual MS that need to upgrade so they can talk to each other) browsers (plugins to take care of new services, flash etc.) Old software that still works well is dumb terminal programs, LAN sniffers, POP mailers, etc. Manytimes lots of software needs upgraded just because the OS changed and for no other reason. Save some money. Run an older box also until it's functionality has been completely replaced without spending a ton of money. Look for bundled software. My new camera came with a photo editor that replaced my old one. I didn't need to buy a new photo editor for my new machine. Thanks ArcSoft.
  • I recently upgraded to Windows XP, hoping to get a stability boost from the NT engine in XP. I often work from home, and the multitasking required by my work had Win98 bluescreen as often as once an hour. I dreaded the upgrade because of what I knew was going to happen: I am now in the process of reloading my favorite applications one by one to see which ones are going to work and which ones are going to require upgrade in order to run under WinXP.

    I couldn't even start the intall program for Easy CD Creator 4 before Windows XP itself told me that my version was out of date and I'd need to upgrade. Even the shrink-wrapped copies of ECDC at BestBuy touted a download you could get to make it XP-compliant (ie, it doesn't even work out of the box).

    Music Match Jukebox 4 loads, but hangs my system the minute I try to rip am MP3. I can download the latest version, but in order for it to rip at 160K I have to pay for an upgrade.

    I don't even feel the need to get the latest versions of these programs; they're jam-packed with extraneous features I won't use. I need to upgrade for the sole reason that I upgraded my OS.
    All other apps combined, I'm running about 50/50 - half of my stable of frequently-used programs run under XP; half don't.

    Granted, I could create a system partition for my old copy of Win98SE, load the program there, and keep going. I could cobble together a script of command-line utilities to do some of the same things under Linux (or maybe find a decent screen-driven app, but most are lacking in completeness and/or integration). Or I can knuckle under and ante up to maintain status quo.

    *Sigh.* If I ever needed a kick in the pants to migrate more of my day-to-day functionality to my Linux partition, it arrived on my doorstep yesterday.
    • First of all you should have researched a bit to figure out how many of your apps would need to be upgraded to work properly on WinXP. If you migrated from WIn98 to Win2k using ECDC 3.x you had to download a cheap hack upgrade to get it to work properly or buy version four. You should have expected to spend time time and/or money upgrading all the shit you used to use. Would you take a RedHat 5.x install and replace libc completely with glibc and jam the 2.4 kernel in it without upgrading anything else? No you wouldn't. Don't bitch at Windows because you lack forsight. You'd have the same problems upgrading to Win2k from Win98.
    • I dreaded the upgrade because of what I knew was going to happen: I am now in the process of reloading my favorite applications one by one to see which ones are going to work and which ones are going to require upgrade in order to run under WinXP.

      It sounds like you didn't do your homework [microsoft.com]...
    • As I said in another post about the upgrade treadmill. You do have a choice. Keep the old box running. Only retire it when all it's functionality has been replaced. If you don't like the way XP and Ez CD Creator work, don't fall into the trap. Simply use the old hardware and make them come to your terms. You will buy when they have something new and useful, not same funcitonality but with pretty new interface for new OS. That is why I have a LAN. None of my machines run the same OS. None of my machines do everything. One machine is a Web Browser. One machine is a server (SAMBA). One machine is for Music (MIDI & MP3). One machine is the MS Office box (wife requries it and it's fun to layout photos in Powerpoint for printing) Photo printer comes with MS drivers only) and Digital camera workstation (WIN98 SE with USB). The older laptop for homework runs Win 95 OEM with Office because it only has 24 Meg memory and a 1 G hard drive. There isn't room for bloatware uprgrades on it. There is a reason to use different versions of an OS. No OS is one size fits all. Therefore there is no reason to standardize all your machines. The only place to standardize hardware is at the office where everybody's application is IE and Office and IT needs to be effecient. However if you do gaming, music editing, photo editing, CD burning, etc. you may want to look at OS'es best sutited to the task. Buggy ole WIN 95 upgrade comes without IE and will not run VBS scripts if Office isn't installed. Linux also makes a great browser machine.
    • I recently bought my first CD writer, and was trying to decide whether I should put it in the Windows98 PC or the Linux box. I knew that with Windows, the software would be easy to install from the included CD. But I also guessed, from my previous experience, that it would likely be bloated, and also include a lot of junkware/advertising, plus have the sort of problems you've described.

      So I decided to give myself a little challenge by placing it in the Linux box.

      Turned out to be fairly simple. It did require modifiying a couple config. files by hand ('lilo.conf' and 'fstab'), but the HOWTO explained this clearly. The only difficult task was choosing the best CD-burning GUI from about a dozen choices. My favorite was 'xcdroast', but there were many others that were capable of doing the job.
  • ...is that people seem to think that "EULA" stands for "End User Licence Agreement," and that the user is being licenced to do something.

    In fact, if companies would more clearly call them "ALUE", or "Agreement of License to the User's (back) End", then it would be clear what these things are really for, and what the customer was really agreeing to, without having to read many pages of lawyereese.

    On the bright side: if commercial software publishers get very agressive about their sunset clauses and charging regular relicensing fees, that is going to be a bigger advertisement for Open Source and Free software than anything any of us could do!

    -Rob

  • by dpilot (134227) on Friday December 14, 2001 @09:36AM (#2703734) Homepage Journal
    You have to look a little deeper for the real problem. As a society, we are used to selling *things*. *Things* eventually wear out, require repair, get consumed, etc. Then you have to go out and buy another *thing* to replace it. Some *things* last longer than others, but all are essentially ephemeral.

    Even though the concepts embodied in a book are eternal, the book itself is ephemeral, so in the public mind it became a *thing*, just like any other *thing*.

    Enter the electronic age, and the liberation of the idea from the containing physical medium.

    Aside from all the copyright brou-ha-ha, look at the implications on a software industry. Simply put, bits don't wear out. They may become obsolete; their physical expression may wear out; but the bits themselves don't.

    So how do you build a "Software Industry". Either you force obsolescence, so that what you just sold will 'wear out' after a while, and you can once again treat it like a *thing*, or you strive for a newer, more appropriate model.

    From what I can tell, software actually began on a 'non-*thing*' model, with revenue largely derived through service. But once the dollar potential got big enough, the *thing* model came in and took over.

    OTOH, now we're nearing the end of the exponential growth curve in many areas, and maybe there's a chance for a newer, more sane model to re-emerge. People are getting tired of the upgrade churn of forced obsolescence.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2001 @09:41AM (#2703751)
    Posting as ac for a reason.

    The company I work for follows the support-subscription-and-charge-a-premium-to- upgrade-to-the-new-version business model . Since it was in the company's interest to increase revenue, they came out with a new whiz bang gui version of an old character based tool. The customer base ooed and aahed over the pretty screens and didn't realize they were being forced marched off of an ugly, functional and stable platform onto a pretty and unstable platform. Never mind that the new tool didn't support all the requisite customer functions - it was Pretty.

    Pretty was worthless. During the last major migration, Pretty went down in flames. Pretty has been killed and now the company is saying "But wait! We've got Beautiful over here! Use that instead!"

    During all of this, the customers have had two choices - stay with an old tool that works and the company has announced is dead or migrate. Since the company is about maximizing profits, the company didn't ever consider that it was in the customer's best interest to just incrementally revise the old stalwart tool.

    As a result, our customers are pissed and our competitors are having a field day. However, even if the customers migrate to our competitors, they're not fundamentally better off. Our competitors use the same business model. Company knows that and the customer knows that.

    Given what's happened over the past year, if I were the customer, I'd insist that the source be opened up. If the company says no, then migrate to a vendor that says yes. That way, if the old tool does 95% of what I want, I can pay someone to add the other 5%.

    My guess is it'll be twenty years before the customers start reading /. and become sophisticated enough to understand that.
  • by aozilla (133143)
    The funny thing is, a subscription model is pretty much the only way to make money off open-source software. All you FAIC freaks better start getting used to the idea, if you expect open-source to be the wave of the future.
  • The article, and several of the comments here, seem to be confusing the issue to an extreme.

    Software companies, whether they're selling you a license or whether they're free software companies, will have continued operating expenses if they are supporting your software. There is, IMO, absolutely nothing wrong with requiring continued payments to keep up support, since there is an ongoing expense. But some people here seem to think that is evil, for reasons I cannot fathom.

    What is unacceptable is software that just stops working (note that "oh, I upgraded to WinFUBAR-2005-SpecialEdition-2.11 and they want me to pay for an upgrade to support it, those greedy bastards!" is not software that stopped working.) Timebombs are bad, and probably shouldn't even be legal.

    Bottom line: if you want someone to support and update something into the future, you should be prepared to pay for it into the future. If you just want it to continue to work as it always has, paying someone a subscription is ridiculous.

  • by mystery_bowler (472698) on Friday December 14, 2001 @10:21AM (#2703931) Homepage
    This is just my opinion as a software developer.

    I have never, nor will I willingly place a time bomb in software I create that forces a customer to buy another version of said software needlessly.

    Having said that though, there is one approach along these lines that I don't necessarily disagree with. When the customer buys the product, part of what they, the customer, is expecting is support. Employing support people (What, you don't expect me to do this myself do you? I'm a programmer. ;) ) costs money, but hopefully the sale of the product makes up for that. The product will, most likely, change (hopefully for the better) over time but free support for the product should last no less than 6 months. 6 months should give a customer plenty of time to get familiar with the installation and use of the software.

    After the predesignated length of time - which, by the way, the customer should be made aware of from the start - support should cost money. Keeping your tech support knowledge base going, keeping knowledgeable, experienced people on your tech support staff and supporting older versions of your software all cost money. The more versions of your software you support, the more it will wind up costing you. Since these old versions don't reflect new sales, the costs have to be made up with charging for support.

    Of course, you could go to another extreme and offer either free or significantly reduced-cost upgrades for life for your customers. That's always nice.

  • by ZZZaphod (543839) on Friday December 14, 2001 @10:37AM (#2704005)
    From Article:

    "This guy was very insistent that if we did not buy renewals we would be sued [because] our current licenses would be expiring after two years,"

    This example isn't a case of getting charged for tech support, or a company ending its support. Its a having software "expire" right from under you. And a long as software is "licensed" the customer is at the mercy of the vendor and that license. There was a similar attempted 'expiration' when a certain freeware video conferencing program was finally bought out by a company that had been licensing the technology. Problem is not long before this the buyout, the freewarwe guys released an upgraded program that was on par in key ways with the what the new company was planning to release.
    Heres the rub. The new company tried to declare the freeware software that had already been released, "expired". They then began to try to pressure folks to delete, and pull from their websites software that was packaged with a freeware license.

    Who know's whats lurking down in the bottom of those EULA's - I figure the big boys have inserted a legal ace or two in there EULA's for just such an thing, "This license may be terminated when we say so, and you must quit using it and burn your hard drive" and are just figuring out to keep Joe Customer from blowing chunks when they try to push it down his throat.

  • A Fairness Model (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gordguide (307383) on Friday December 14, 2001 @11:29AM (#2704269)
    If a SW developer wants to change the rules, fine. But consider your "customers* " and what you owe them for your current prosperity.

    Change the model all you want, but if you stop supporting/updating/selling a given SW product, release the old, functionally limited (by the developer's own definition, unless all the improvements are just window dressing) product as a free d/l.

    Even Apple will let you d/l OS7.6 for free. No, it's not supported, but it is a perfectly decent OS. Users of old, probably free computers (read "the poor") can get into the game for nearly nothing. Apple reaps goodwill and potential customers.

    It has got to be a big red flag if a developer won't release old, unsupported SW for fear that nobody will buy the new stuff. What's the good of your latest and greatest?

    SW is different than a car or a TV. Users must invest time and greymatter to learn it's ins-and-outs; you compel them to invest time and money in your wares. It is economical to keep using your stuff; the money is just half the investment.

    *customer- the guy who PAID you for a product, uses that product and is predisposed to support your future products with his MONEY. Alienate him at your peril.
  • by Coppit (2441)
    GoZilla used to be a really slick download manager. Then they were bought out by Radiate, which prompty installed spyware. Okay, I thought, I'll just use OptOut to remove the spyware and continue using it. Well, then I learned that the new version requires you to pay extra $$. Apparently the new company doesn't honor the "free upgrades" policy of the original company with which I purchased the software...
  • by kriegsman (55737) on Friday December 14, 2001 @11:51AM (#2704395) Homepage
    I led a small, innovative Internet software company for six years -- long enough for several of our older products to be superceded by newer, different, or competing ones, and to ultimately be retired.

    In most cases, when we finally discontinued all support for a product, especially a potentially mission-critical server product, we made a fully-functional perpetually-licensed version of the software available for free to anyone who wanted it, and who acknowledged that there was no warranty or support.

    Our logic was simple: once there was no more money for us to make with a product, if people found it useful (in its completely unsupported state), then at least we were doing something good for our customer community, and hopefully generating a little goodwill.

    I think for some kinds of software, making "retired" products available (unsupported) for free has the potential to be good for everyone involved.

    -Mark Kriegsman
  • by Vspirit (200600) on Friday December 14, 2001 @12:12PM (#2704515) Homepage
    my mother has an IBM laptop with norton antivirus preinstalled. Thats good. You've paid for the software once. That was one of the motivators for her to buy the laptop. All she now need to do is to upgrade her access to the virus definition updates. Thats good. Now just recently her last subscription ran out and she wanted to renew this. She couldn't. There were nolonger an option to update order a new subscription to that version of Norton Antivirus. She have to upgrade the whole software package though all she need is the antivirus definition subscription to be updated. Something they did not say wasn't possible in the marketing. Now she can't and is running without antivirus.

    She has lost her trust in the Antivirus company who's most important issue is trust in their service.

    Similar cases are seen with small business clients of mine who were promised the same from the marketing of Norton.

    They have been left out in the open as well.

    Fact is that eg. the marketing of Norton antivirus have not lived up to its promises = false marketing in my book, and in law in Europe/Denmark it means a crime.

    So I'm now wondering if we will see class action suits in America sooner or later knowing this is going on.

    And just to finish it off.. Where are the companies strategy? it definately do not seem to be in quality when quality is defined by:

    what is delivered / what is expected = 1
    if the result is not 1, quality is questionable.
  • I just ran into a similar situation at work. Our support subscription just expired on our CAD package, and now I can't even download the service packs (they're currently at SP13 for their 2001 version). We paid a lot of money for their software and they expect us to pay more for the bug fixes. The bullshit the software industry gets away with is really incredible to me.

  • by dcavanaugh (248349) on Friday December 14, 2001 @03:01PM (#2705428) Homepage
    Once upon a time, software was primitive (PC, mainframe, makes no difference). Constant bugfixes and new/improved versions were a fact of life. No one ever thought the software companies were doing this just forose things would be free. In the PC world, you bought the base product once at full price and subsequent upgrades at a discount. In the mainframe world, you bought the product once and then paid 20% annually for "maintenance", which was essentially a subscription for any patches, new versions, and phone support. In this scenario, software companies had work to do, and a customer base willing to pay for it.

    Then software "matured". Fewer bugs, more features than most people needed, not much of an incentive to keep upgrading. Y2K and excessive hardware/software costs put alot of mainframe systems into "legacy/do not upgrade" status. The few vendors who had mission-critical mainframe products really "milked" the customer base with whopper fees. Ask some of the IBM big-iron customers about CA (or IBM for that matter). It didn't take long for customers to revolt.

    Today, we see this in the PC world. Many people are jumping off the upgrade bandwagon because they see insufficient benefits to justify the cost. Microsoft is a perfect example: they have a diminishing upgrade rate with each new release of Office. Why? Because the product is mature -- each new release is only a little better than the one before, and the customers are not really clamoring for new features.

    Companies that have mission-critical PC products will no doubt use restrictive licensing to assure a revenue stream even if there isn't much of a demand for upgrades and bugfixes -- hence "Software Assurance (tm)" from Microsoft.

    It always was and still is the responsiblity of the customer to figure out how to avoid getting painted into a corner and "milked". Look for competitive vendors, be willing to migrate to new products, consider open source alternatives. Plan an escape path for everything you do. The alternative is to get "milked" as a cash cow.

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