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Software Government The Courts Your Rights Online News

Software Customer Bill of Rights 293

Cem Kaner of has written up a Software Customer Bill of Rights. Very appropriate considering our recent stories about Microsoft viruses, Dell's BIOS-clickwrap licensing agreement, etc.
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Software Customer Bill of Rights

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  • by EDA Wizard ( 2225 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:28PM (#6839940)
    "3. The product (or information service) must live up to the manufacturer's and seller's claims."

    When has any product ever "lived" up to the marketing claims? If I expected everything I bought to live up to their claims, I'd be dissapointed with every bar of soap, every beer, and every Big Mac.

  • by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:30PM (#6839952) Journal
    The product (or information service) must live up to the manufacturer's and seller's claims.

    If I could have manufacturer's adopt one part of the consumers bill of rights, it would be to advertise with honesty. Do not sell me a software product which does not live up the advertising.

    The one part I disagree with is the reverse engineering. Companies have a right to sell software and to ban people from reverse engineering it.

  • Corporate Goverment (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:31PM (#6839962)
    So who's going to fund this 'Consumer Friendly' bill? No Corporation would back it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:33PM (#6839971)
    I can repost this ad nauseum, since someone doesn't want to face the truth. Yeah, it's fashionable to want to sue Bill, but what if some guy creates some virus that brings a Since someone doesn't want to face the truth, I can repost this ad nauseum. Copy is a very useful function. Linux system down to it's knees? Who do we sue? Linus? OSDL? Or will there be a double standard? Remember, if Bill gets to be sued, be prepared for your favorite OSS house to be liable as well. Otherwise it's just sheer hypocrisy to target MS. And remember, MS is made of of coders who went to the same schools as you. Contrary to OSS opinion, Bill does not write every single line of code in the products nowadays.
  • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:34PM (#6839975) Journal
    The one thing which gets me about what MS does with their updates is they tell you they are selling you a good product when you buy it, but then a few months later tell you it is flawed. When you go to fix the product, they change the license agreement. I hate that.

    It would be like if I purchased a VCR which did not work two months later, and after I went to have it fixed, the manufacturer decided to "add a feature" which sends them data about the VCR. It is BS.

  • by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:39PM (#6840005)
    some strong feelings to hold companies fully accountable for losses caused by their products' defects

    I can see where this view is coming from, but seriously; the litigious culture that is developing in the USA (and therefore no doubt on this side of the pond before long) could have a grave impact on your economy.

    You have to take a certain degree of responsibility for your own action. Otherwise, everybody will just be too scared to do anything, and every American will just stay in bed all day.

    You NEED suppliers to be a viable business yourself; and in return those suppliers deserve a leniency from you as far as accountability goes.

    In return you get leniency from your customers as far as your own liability goes.

    As the owner of a small software business, I feel comfortable with the fact that whilst I cannot sue Microsoft's ass if something goes terribly wrong; neither can my customers sue my ass.

    Swings and roundabout; 6 of one...
  • Great, but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mcc ( 14761 ) <> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:44PM (#6840036) Homepage
    This is beautiful. Make it clearer, though, that we're talking about use licenses/single purchase licenses, not source code copy licenses such as the GPL. You need to very clearly define what kinds of purchases this bill of rights applies to, or software manufacturers will wierdly try to define their products so they fall outside the bill of rights' scope.

    I wonder what would happen if 40,000 slashdotters mailed a copy of this to their respective congressferrets?

    The only thing I would add is to see if there's any reasonable way something can be done about the fact the BSA has made it a criminal act to own lots of software and have less than perfect archiving of license paperwork.. I don't think there's any way that could be done in a reasonable manner within this "bill of rights" though...
  • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:45PM (#6840042) Journal
    What you need is some sort of consumers' organization -- some sort of Ralph Nader type thing. There is a limit as to what one screwball can do, but a whole organization full of screwballs, all making noise ... even Microsoft would have to pay attention.

    Is there such a thing as a Software Consumers' Association? I couldn't find anything like that using a quick Google search.
  • by tambo ( 310170 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:02PM (#6840128)
    Y'know, I was just thinking this exact same thing on Friday - that the software industry is having a serious identity crisis at present. They can't figure out what products they're selling, and how they're doing it. They're mostly driven by the profit motive: How can we generate more profit? Which is great if the answer is, "build a better product" - but crap if the answer is compulsory upgrades, limited-time licenses, or license audits.

    But there's a big one missing, particularly important in light of Symantec's foolhardy announcement:

    The software can be installed on multiple machines.

    I own a notebook and a desktop home server. I use both of them basically as a unit - sometimes literally, via Terminal Services or Synergy. They achieve different purposes - the server provides infrastructure (holding data, managing requests from other users [e.g., web pages], network security, MP3s), while I run actual applications on my notebook.

    With this setup, it only makes sense to have a roughly identical set of software on each. I don't want my word processing solely on my notebook, and I don't want all of my security apps solely on my server.

    So it's exactly that reason why this product-activation crap is odious. If I want two functionally-identical machines, I have to buy two operating systems, two word-processing packages, two versions of TurboTax and Symantec. similarly, with DRM, I'll have to buy two licenses for every piece of media I want to play. Others will follow down this path to the seedy underworld of profit-driven software.

    It only seems fair that I expect to pay only once per software package. After all, I'm one guy; I'm never typing on both machines at the same time. Now, I understand why software companies are reluctant to release software that can be installed a trillion times, because it tends to get purchased, like, eight times, and then widely distributed on IRC. But at the same time, they're smacking down guys like me.

    So with that in mind, I propose: Let software be installed on multiple machines. That number can be limited, and it can be small. Ten is fine - if I install software on more than ten machines, I should probably be purchasing a site license. But one is insufficient, in this day of frequent multiple-computer ownership.

    - David Stein
  • #11 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by __aaaehb3101 ( 610398 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:20PM (#6840211)
    I sometimes long for the 80s. Sure I might wait years for a software release, but with a few exceptions, it always worked. And it usually worked as advertised. I miss products like WordPerfect 5, it worked right out of the box. And if I had a problem I could call someone and actually get help, as opposed to a prepared statement.

    So I feel it needs another article:
    11. A software vendor will provide real support for the products they sell. Or A software vendor will outline in detail what; if any, support they provide and what guidelines they use.
  • Re:de minimis fraud (Score:3, Interesting)

    by secolactico ( 519805 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:37PM (#6840305) Journal
    There is no accounting for taste. Its far too subjective. I can't try to sue an automaker for claiming that buying a specific car will make me cool because it's "stylish".

    If they claim, however something that is objective and verifiebly untrue, you should be able to sue. Say, McDonalds claiming that the big mac has x% of fat when it's not true.
  • Apple Computer... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ZackSchil ( 560462 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:39PM (#6840312)
    has violated rights 2 and 3 a few times, has been brought to court, and has paid fair settlements (full refund on OS X purchase for users of certain hardware, $20 coupon for the Apple store if the user wishes to keep OS X). Even though Apple is my favorite software company, they have violated a few of these rights (though not many of the more horrible ones). This bill of rights would keep honest companies honest and awful companies out of business! Looks like everyone wins to me.
  • by FiskeBoller ( 536819 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:43PM (#6840340)
    A bill of software rights may or may not make headway. However, it would seem to me that a consumer protection label could work, since the model has been applied successfully in other industries. What I envision is some kind of up-front, package labelling like the following:

    Caution! By agreeing to use this software, the vendor may access your private files at any time.
    Caution! This software is unprotected and may expose you to foriegn programs (virus and worms) that may corrupt your documents.

    The benefit to consumers, of course, is that no software manufacture would want to have these labels applied to their software.
  • by prichardson ( 603676 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:43PM (#6840342) Journal
    Adobe lets you install on 2 machines, or at least they did when I read my GoLive 4.0 EULA. They only stipulated that you could only use it on one computer at a time. Also, they noted that back-ups were ok, too.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @04:53PM (#6840403)
    Or are you talking about that e-mail attachment virus, the one for which you apparently expect Bill Gates to show up at people's houses telling them not to run the attachment?

    You would think that after 10 years of this crap that Microsoft, with all their money and resources would have figured out how to provide their customers with a mail client or OS that any halfway intelligent 15 year old couldn't bring to it's knees after spending an afternoon on an IRC channel with his buddies.

    The only way that I can see a company like MS being able to get away with this b.s. is that they have a monopoly where people have no alternative.

    Is it Linus Torvalds' fault when there's a sendmail hole? Is that suddenly a "Linux hole?"

    That is ridiculous and you know it. Linux is a stone soup proposition, not a monolithic deal like you get when you buy into Microsoft. With Microsoft you get the line "we will fulfill all your needs, no others need be considered". Well the Microsoft way sounds good to an IT director, until you ask what happens when MS falls down on the job and leaves you nowhere else to go.

    I am sure Linus would say "if you don't like sendmail, switch to another MTA, there are many". With Gates all you get as a choice is "we are doing the best we can".

    People who don't like sendmail's long history of problems can switch to a different MTA. Many do. Products like QMail and PostFix don't have these sendmail's problems, and I personally would not run sendmail on a bet.

    Unfortunately MS has the world by the short hairs when it comes to choice and users who don't like it often have no choice but to eat the crumbs that fall from Microsoft's table.

    As a sysadmin that has to support both Linux and MS servers, I personally feel sick to my stomach every time I have to deploy a MS solution because of the problems this brings - high cost, both up front with licensing and license compliance bookeeping, with maintenance, and crummy reliability. It is ridiculous that companies buy into this. The fact is that with the problems that occur with MS's patching mechanisms you will be continually patching and testing the patched systems, AND never knowing if one patch is going to cancel out the effects of a critical fix applied previously (and yes I have been bitten by this).

    The fact is that MS ships a broken product. There is no reason that IIS should run as a kernel level device driver making any IIS exploit a system level exploit or that your laptop should arrive with an administrative account with a blank password. Stuff like this shows that MS just does not care about long term issues like security and reliability, just being able to show a few pages per second more in benchmark studies.

    Now Microsoft users are in a real bind. They have bought into a closed system that is broken, and there are lots of disaffected teenage males looking to make a splash on the evening news with a virus they've written or modified.

    It is not hard to predict that Sobig.F is not the final Sobig, and that Blaster and Slammer are going to be followed by other similar efforts.

    MS users had better strap in. It's going to be rough ride.

  • by zcat_NZ ( 267672 ) <> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:13PM (#6840530) Homepage
    This port has installed the following files which may act as network
    servers and may therefore pose a remote security risk to the system.

    If there are vulnerabilities in these programs there may be a security
    risk to the system. FreeBSD makes no guarantee about the security of
    ports included in the Ports Collection. Please type 'make deinstall'
    to deinstall the port if this is a concern.

    For more information, and contact details about the security
    status of this software, see the following webpage:
    n orbert#

  • Ooookay.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:20PM (#6840574) Homepage
    So let's see. If companies allowed people to copy, distribute and modify freely, how many people are going to buy from the company and how many are going to fire up Kazaa and pick up a free "modified" version? What then motivates companies to hire people (creating PAYING jobs) to produce software if they can't expect a return on it?

    We've got one story about robots putting people out of work and another with people claiming we should put people who do jobs robots can't do (like programming) out of business.

    "All software should be free! lalala."

    Give me a break.

  • Re:They forgot one (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GabrielStrange ( 628884 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @06:05PM (#6840820) Homepage
    View the source code? Heck, if you're going to go that far, I don't see why you shouldn't just let us have the source code, as long as we promise not to redistribute it or make use of any of it in new products...

    I've had plenty of occasions to make small changes to applications running on my Linux box.

    For example, earlier this year I installed GnomeMeeting [], which is a Linux audio/video conferencing program that will talk to NetMeeting clients. I very quickly discovered that when GnomeMeeting starts up, it automatically selects the microphone input on my sound card as the "recording" input. Which isn't what I want -- my microphone is actually connected to a mixing board (along with a synthesizer and an electric drum kit) which runs into my sound card's line in jack.

    I Emailed the author to suggest that he make this option configurable... Got a very detailed and completely polite response from him less than an hour later, saying that he's very sorry, but since he's trying to compete with NetMeeting, simplicity and ease of use are of the utmost importance to him, and he feels making this an option would confuse too many people...

    So I looked through the source code, found the piece of code that selected the microphone input, and just commented it out.

    Another example: I have a friend who reads Yahoo's News section on a regular basis, and whenever she finds something she thinks is interesting, she sends me the URL to it over ICQ... But since Yahoo disallows deep linking, I never end up at the page she thought she sent me to. And if she goes back to her ICQ history and clicks on the URL, it pops up fine for her -- because the URL currently loaded in her browser was still one from Yahoo's servers. So naturally, she blames me for the failures.

    I haven't actually tried doing this, but I keep thinking I should add something into Firebird that'll make it so that whenever the "real" Referer URL is on a different domain than the URL being requested, the top page of the domain being requested gets sent as Referer instead. I'd think it wouldn't break too many things if it doesn't effect the behavior when going between two pages on the same site.

    'course, if this became common practice, the /. effect would become a much more fearsome thing.

    But really, the best argument for this suggestion is much closer to what you were originally saying. It's quite possible that programs are doing "something funny." While having the right to view the source code would make it much easier to detect if this is the case... Actually having the entire source code in a readily compilable form would enable you to easily disable the "funny" behavior.

    In other words, it would assure you that you'd still get the functionality you were promised when you paid for the program, even if there's some functionality in it that you find objectionable and would like to disable. It would give you a much larger level of control over what your system does and what it doesn't do.

    But heck, we all know that's not going to happen... Because if we give users control, the companies lose control.

    What actually happens is the exact opposite. Case in point... Earlier this year, with iTunes 4, Apple introduced the ability to MacOS X computers to automatically stream their MP3 libraries to other Macs over the Internet. A large amount of software very quickly showed up to let you download and save MP3 files over this protocol, instead of just listen to the streamed versions.

    But, lucky for Apple, they soon discovered that there was some sort of bug in iTunes 4 that caused MP3 files to sound horrible if you had your computer's volume set very nearly to the top. (I'm not exactly clear on the precise nature of the bug -- I rarely have my volume set anywhere near the top. Most of the music I listen to is fairly quiet.)

    And, naturally, the same update (iT

  • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwa ( 26272 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:08PM (#6841118)
    Why should software require a different consumers' organization? Pick almost any of these [], become active and promote this as just another facet of consumer protection. Because it is.

    Any attempt to form a "Software Consumer's Organization" will have a BSA bullseye painted on it in a heartbeat. It would be far more exciting to see the Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing and Electronic Commerce (AAFTEC) decide that current software licensing practices are deceptive, fraudulent and unfair to consumers.

  • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cemkaner ( 55453 ) <> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:16PM (#6841151) Homepage
    There is no Software Consumers' Association, but I have worked with lawyers from Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology and from Consumers Union on software contract law.

    When public anger with an industry rises, legislators get tempted to create laws to regulate the industry. Software publishing is particularly vulnerable because so many publishers have engaged in business practices that would be considered outrageous (and unlawful) in traditional markets AND because this is no longer a wildly expanding industry / employer in the United States.

    We can lay out some principles to advise those legislators, or we can lay back, and later complain that they got it all wrong.
  • by cyril3 ( 522783 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @09:33PM (#6841816)
    Few ads make claims that are lies. Claims are either

    accurate but useless (shown in clinical tests to contain the active ingredient X, i saw this one the other day, I'm not kidding, they made no claims about the effectiveness of the stuff, just claimed that clinical tests showed the stuff contained one of the ingredients)


    subjective as all hell (any adjective incl best, fastest, biggest, or claim to surveys, used by more popular cheerleaders than any other brand of laxative)

    If you can show they lied you can make big money. If they do lie then they won't have much money in the first place.

    Lies by omission are a little different but even in ads there is no law that says you have to be exhaustive, just don't actively lie.

  • by Dwonis ( 52652 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @10:41PM (#6842096)
    The problem is the mindsets of both software publishers and customers. Many software publishers have this convoluted idea that, because they are writing software for a computer, they have some implicit right to dictate terms to the computer's owner. They seem to forget what I like to call the Golden Rule of Software Development: Software developers must ensure that the software they write obeys - and only obeys - the computer's master. That is, software is simply a tool used by a computer's "master" (this is usually the computer's owner, but not always) to accomplish certain goals.

    The Free/Libre/Open-Source Software (FLOSS) movement seems to understand this, but many mass-market proprietary software developers are still able to flout this rule. Unfortunately, most computer users have become accustomed to being subservient to their software.

    My own experience with most FLOSS has been much like my experience with high-speed Internet service: I can never go back. I think once people get a good taste of what using well-behaved software is like, things will quickly change. The only things that can get in the way of this change are:

  • Unrealistic (Score:2, Interesting)

    by macjohn ( 185795 ) <> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @10:42PM (#6842099) Homepage
    This is a nice theory. Of course, so are communism, libertarianism and reagonomics (<--troll). They're all just useless, because they ignore reality.

    When a big company buys a big piece of software, the license agreement is negotiated to something mutually understood and acceptable. When millions of people buy software from a monopoly in an office supply store, there is no negotiation. The monopoly gets exactly what it wants, and in this case has had the law written to its specifications just to make sure.

    So fogeddaboutit. Ain't gonna be no rights unless you can come up with some big campaign contributions.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"