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Author Topic: Software Ethics  (Read 8766 times)

vizacc

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Software Ethics
« on: December 20, 2007, 05:14:58 PM »
hi,
I'm raising a new thread about software ethics.

I'm raising a broad-based discussion question.

The vendors of several popular organizers uses the same wordprocessor library, same scheduler library -
and used in different fashion in their organizers.

One thing i noticed was the sheer amount of bugs those libraries had and yet, the wordprocessor library vendor, and the scheduler library vendor managed to get away totally blameless - their customer's customers (i.e., the software vendors) get the blame instead.

many of the issues reported (by the end-users of these organizers) were attributed to bugs and defects in the (library), and no fault of the (organizer-vendor).

for the record, many years ago, I confronted the word-processor library vendor and walked away, losing a few thousand dollars., and same with the scheduler vendor.

why did I walk away and lose all the money?

the EULA on the Word-Processing Library states that the Word-processor library is without warranty and that it was without fitness for any purpose. any claim in court would be thrown out, and those vendors would tell me repeatedly that I would not get back my money at all. my emails are often ignored.

nearly all EULA found on software now have the above clauses.

today, I look at the software market and shudder. unless things change, either by law-enforcement (in the form of IT malpractice lawsuits) or increasing professional status of the IT industry, three things will happen:

a) people who write software will be tempted to sell "hypeware", "false promises" and "software full of bugs" to recover costs as quickly as possible,

b) it will become more and more difficult to earn a living selling software.

c) there will be another IT "black hole" where investments don't match the revenue coming in.

Questions:
- An average software developer makes approx US$120,000 per year. How many copies of US$29.95 organizers do you have to sell to support a development team?

- Why is that nobody has taken "class action" lawsuit against certain vendors?

- Why do people resign themselves to posting on this forum to complain... why not file an "IT malpractice" lawsuit instead?

Maybe the first thing to do, is regulate IT the same as being lawyers and doctors. Doctors are regulated by medical council or medical supervisory board. Lawyers have bar associations or law societies.

The very sad thing about software market is as every year pass by, I see more and more software created with false and misleading advertising. RAD means Rapid Application Decline, and QA is no longer followed.

Perhaps the only way to force higher standards is to start writing laws, to force IT vendors to honor their claims, and force punitive damages when they don't.


mouser

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2007, 05:36:34 PM »
Let me mention another thing which i think is going to hurt software quality.

Every day we are seeing more and more the push towards advertisement-based software.

This is the Google effect -- everything becomes "free" with advertisements.

It's strange that there is almost universal horror at the idea of "adware" on your desktop, but no one seems to mind much that the entire web is becoming adware, and as applications move more to the web, adware is becoming the norm not the exception.

I think one of the consquences of the googleification (adwareification) of sofware is that something profound changes in terms of the motivations and incentives for software developers.

It seems to me that the incentives shift much more to attracting eyeballs and new visitors, rather than providing a sustained quality product.  Sure, products will still need to be good and get a good reputation to compete, but i think we are very much likely to see much more of a focus towards attracting new visitors rather than keeping happy "customers".  And companies won't have a paying userbase to answer to -- they can always just say "hey it's free (and beta), what do you want from us?! stop complaining and watch some more ads."

I really can't say i like the direction that google/adware is taking us.. I hope there is still room for other kinds of software that people are willing to pay to support, so it won't be dependent on advertising, but i fear it's going to be an uphill battle.

tinjaw

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2007, 08:25:34 PM »
I think the software vendors purchasing the licenses should vote with their money. Tell the library vendor to take a flying leap and spread the word that the library sucks. Put it up on a blog page. I used product XYZ and it sucked. The supported sucked. The developer was a jerk. So, Intarwebz, what do you recommend. Please leave a comment or a link to your own blog posting about what you use and why.

We don't need regulation. We don't need courts. We don't need "Certified Engineers" making software. We don't need lawyers drafting EULAs. We need people voting with the most powerful weapons in the know universe, money and word of mouth.

Vizacc,

a) glad to see you returned to health.
b) I feel your frustration.

epinions.com type results are worthless, because I have absolutely no clue about the reviewers experience with the domain, whether they have a grudge or a competing product, etc. But I will trust the reviews of my peers or peers of peers and so forth. Teen Warez Wannabe can tell me a product sux or rocks and I don't give a damn. However, I will trust others on this forum that have proven themselves reliable and intelligent. I will trust the likes of a Paul Graham, Jeff Atwood, or Jon Udell. And there are many levels in between.

Software ethics are no different than ethics in any other profession. Many people don't have them.

Daleus

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2007, 09:39:01 AM »
Could it be, the reason that lawsuits aren't filed are the same reasons why the offenders in this thread are referred to as "the vendor" rather than actually identified? I assume the reason is because no one needs a libel lawsuit tacked to their ass ;) I'm not trying to step on toes.

Regardless, this is why I have recommended this site to so very many people (I should follow up to see if any of them have actually come had a look) - I am no coder but a lot of you are, and I can see from the product available here, some damn good ones too!

For me, a positive comment at DC is pure gold.

Also, I'm slowly but surely replacing as much of my programs with open source stuff because frankly if it is crap, it's not at all painful to trash it.  After 20+ years in end user support, I have absolutely no faith in most commercial software producers - they *always* lie or mislead and many have followed MSloth's pattern of regular releases of old crap software with a new skin badly pasted over the top. Add onto that a big dose of feeping creaturism and some over pricing and you have the state of commecial software programming.

Daleus, Curmudgeon-at-Large

Darwin

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2007, 05:05:54 PM »
This is a very interesting discussion and raises issues that end-users seldom consider. I guess it all comes down to transparency - 99.99% of the unwashed ma end-users, myself included, are not aware that software developers buy off the shelf (so to speak) software components to incorporate into their own applications. If end-users were more aware of this, they might be more understanding and perhaps even assist the developer in pushing the supplier for a fix (rather than berating the developer).
"Some people have a way with words, other people,... oh... have not way" - Steve Martin

doublewitt

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2007, 05:43:08 PM »
If end-users were more aware of this, they might be more understanding and perhaps even assist the developer in pushing the supplier for a fix (rather than berating the developer).

It's just a matter of communication between programmers and end-users.
If they would explain more, we would understand more...

Darwin

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2007, 05:59:35 PM »
Yes, this point underlay what I wrote above about transparency. Maybe I wasn't very clear (no pun intended  :)). Transparency was a bad word choice, come to think of it, as it's not exactly like developers go out of their way to hide this information from their customers, it just doesn't come up very often.
"Some people have a way with words, other people,... oh... have not way" - Steve Martin

Armando

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2007, 12:10:31 AM »
We don't need regulation. We don't need courts. We don't need "Certified Engineers" making software. We don't need lawyers drafting EULAs. We need people voting with the most powerful weapons in the know universe, money and word of mouth.

IMHO eBay's system is powerful because it uses that kind of way, brilliantly taking advantage of the webs interactive capabilities (borrowed from forum and review site -- which also have a powerful influence on consumers decisions). there are ways around the system, but as a vendor or a buyer, you have to earn trust. If you don't, your crooked plans will be short lived  : unsatisfied customers or vendors will complain and that's it.


Maybe there's money to be made and quality to be gained if we could create a new model of software marketing/selling that uses some of the elements of eBay’s structure and some of the principles behind donationware... Just thinking out loud.  :)


Edit : I shall add that I still think we need EULAs, regulations, etc. In a well integrated functioning and healthy society these should only serve as guidelines and be used as safety nets though. ; the guidelines orienting the transactions, allowing the "measure" of trust and honesty.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2007, 12:18:05 AM by Armando »

mikiem

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2007, 05:42:52 PM »
It's a difficult topic and unfortunately I'm afraid I don't have any good news... IMHO today's world is ruled by the acceptance of mediocrity -- unless it's your boss and then as far as you & I are concerned only the best will do. ;D

IN a nutshell, build a better mousetrap, be able to deliver it, and sell it properly -- while the world may or may not beat a path to your door, you have a decent chance of owning the market... until someone else mimics your product for less $. Look at 3M & the Post-it note. Add regs, and you've introduced a double-edged sword: you tend to eliminate any judgment, ethics, or pride, lowering the level of mediocrity that's the norm, and you've paid for the privilege through your taxes. But hopefully you've also raised the bar so that the very worst isn't quite as bad anymore. As the old saying goes: "Good enough for government work".

Now consumers, customers, users, or whatever you want to call them will always bit** if given the chance and an audience. People like to complain... about the weather, their job, prices, their husbands and wives, and if you sell enough of your product that they can share their misery with their neighbor, they'll bit** about whatever you sell too. But the average person doesn't move to Florida, get a divorce, quit their job, and win the lotto -- hopefully they won't quit buying whatever you sell either. There's a difference between idle bit**ing and really getting riled over legitimate complaints. Lawyers get enthused by lawsuits -- would-be plaintiffs get enthused when they imagine a big windfall -- few if any want to be reviled on international TV because they sued a dry cleaner on principle over a pair of pants.  :D

It is great that many sites that have to do with selling allow visitors to rate merchants and products. If you make any purchase without checking it out now-days that's your choice alone. With the exception of a few merchants changing their company names, has it really changed anything?

Sony Vegas and Nero both have a very loyal following, and I seldom see much of anything negative written about either. Ulead has a fairly loyal following for their video programs. Adobe Premiere Pro and Roxio don't have the same loyal fans, and lots of negative postings. Where the negative postings are both accurate and numerous, it hasn't changed the companies or their products. And the loyalty based praise of Vegas, Nero, and Ulead is if not dishonest, overlooking several serious faults.

Personally I think that if software in general is going to improve it will be through the efforts of folks like those at Linspire. As they reach the point of surpassing Windows, for a person knowing nothing about PCs, regarding the total experience of buying and using a PC, they raise the bar, serving notice that there is a better mouse trap out there. The folks at Donationcoder are another great example, but their/your efforts are hindered by the sorry working environment: Windows, poor drivers, poorly written apps interferring, and so on. Sometimes taking the point position only gets you shot.

I don't pretend to have any answers, but whatever the answer is it will have to be a fairly large movement to overcome the collective software-developing behemoth writing code today. And it will have to overcome the dismal support efforts by those making and selling hardware too. It will have to be based on clear cut, realizable benefits for consumers -- no one is going to dole out sympathy to a developer making $120K (at least they won't when they realize s/he's making 120K). It will need to involve folks writing code and engineering apps learning something new: talking to and learning from the marketing wizards. Donald Graft (DGIndex) to me is a model of user-responsive coding and design, and you'll see why reading the forum for dgmpgdec on Doom9.org. Impractical maybe, but there needs to be a 2-way flow of information involving marketing and technical on what's possible, what sells, and what current capabilities are -- and it needs to be marketing that gathers info from customers. That sort of thing will help build the better mouse trap, keep it improving so it's leader status is assured, and slowly, renew the hope & expectations, regain the respect of a consumer base so that they don't mind paying.

Right now the expectations are that anything PC related you buy is going to have problems, probably not work as advertised, have no support, probably can't be returned, and considering all of that, is probably overpriced, and often sold by someone who knows less than the little bit you do. In a household with 8 PCs & laptops, over the last couple decades we have had 0 success with any tech support, and have had to fight ~50% of the time over RMAs for anything from printers spitting out parts to chairs where the metal frame broke causing injury to boot. We have spent thousands on software, and maybe 10% has done what it said it would do in the marketing pitch. Hardware has failed, and manufacturers have failed to address known bugs and shortcomings. Any software installed it seems stands a better than 50% chance of screwing something else up, and despite any promises to the contrary, if there's a bug in a program when you buy it, it'll be there till the next version is released.Then I read in the news (not from any blog site) that some software association is maybe shaking down small to mid-size biz. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, just what in that picture would make me feel good about paying for anything having to do with a PC?

vizacc

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2007, 02:00:25 AM »
hi mikiem,

I'm not sure what kind of double standards we operate here.

we supply software to some of the largest companies in the world. when they buy, the order is in hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars.

one software deal requires that we supply:
- 24x7 hotline with 24 hours turn-around,
- bug-fixes within 24 hours or less.
- worldwide support. and overseas local support.
- software with super-rigerous testing, confirmed both by our QA staff and their (ie. that company's) staff.
- any enhancements or additions par gratis (at no extra charge).

the problem we face here is getting our suppliers to give something meaningful we can actually use.

in the course of two years, we dropped 70 (source-code, library) suppliers (nearly 95% of delphi market, 60% of MFC market) and financed our own library development.

looking back at the past, we wrote-off so much code due to quality control issues it's simply mind-boggling.

i don't know what incentives we can give to our (source-code) suppliers to produce meaningful code. throwing money at them don't work, motivating them to do better don't work.





tinjaw

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2007, 05:33:35 AM »
i don't know what incentives we can give to our (source-code) suppliers to produce meaningful code.

Competition.

If there is a lack of quality software in any particular niche, see it as an opportunity. Hire a developer and write the library for your own product then sell the library. Take advantage of the market and put the other guys out of business.

cathodera

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2008, 09:28:00 AM »

Well, obviously, I do not know nearly as much about all this as you all do, but I do know that one of the reasons that I am so increasingly drawn to freeware and open source software is that larger picture  - on the one hand, there are people doing work for which they deserve to be paid.

On the other hand, the products produced by that work are freely available to the end user at no cost.

So from whence shall the money come to pay the people doing the work?

It is one thing to debate the ethics and shoulds and shouldn'ts, and Lord knows there is no shortage of such debates.

The problem is that while the debates rage, and the sermonizers sermonize, there are still people working to produce stuff that is there for the taking by the end user.

So clearly, there are some extremely large elephants to be recognized and led out of many, many drawing rooms, and a whole lot of complicated economic questions and fundamental profit models of entire industries that need to be worked out, and I am not the person to do it.

But as a user, I like the open source idea, and I think it has a very interesting future.

One man's conspiracy is another man's business plan

J-Mac

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2008, 12:54:31 AM »
@cathodera:

I think that the great majority of people are honest and want to support good software developers.  Most, but certainly not all.

I use freeware also, especially if it is something that for the most part only comes that way.  An example of that is Google Calendar. Sure, there are a few good online calendar applications that charge money. I used one all through its beta testing, but then it was released and the price was set at a few hundred dollars, US!  Yikes! Beyond my means - apparently they wanted to sell primarily to corporations.  So I use Google Calendar.  Free.

Other free software I use often has a link for donations via PayPal.  When I use those, if I end up liking it and use it often, I donate.  For real.  In every case.  Those I don't like and stop using get no donation from me.  And I think that is how most treat freeware.  At least, those who can afford to donate or to purchase commercial software.  If someone truly cannot afford to pay for , say, an office suite, then I have no issue at all with them using it and never considering donating.  That is usually the intent of the Donate buttons.  I don't like those who use free software and never donate, even though they can well afford it. But, hey - that's life!

Personally I feel very blessed indeed that before becoming disabled I was able to work in a very good field and earn good money for years.  Thus I have always been able to purchase most of the software that I have ever wanted.  I will admit that since the disability hit me I have become much more discriminating as to what I can purchase, but I still manage.

And I really do think that most people want good software to continue to be developed, and are perfectly willing to pay for it.  Sure, Ad-supported Web 2.0 applications will definitely cut into good software developers' pockets, and some will no doubt fail because of this.  But I also think that good development will still pay off ultimately, and that we will always see the better ones available.

If not, then I am very wrong about all this.  And it will sad to see real software development disappear.

But overall, I have faith in ingenuity and hard work, and I will always do whatever I can to support good software development!

Jim

cathodera

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2008, 06:29:09 AM »
I think you are right that most people who can - and I would add who actually USE a particular program - are more than willing to pay for it!

But let's take, for example, Adobe Photoshop. Of all the copies of that program that are downloaded daily, how many of the people who download it are A) able to purchase it, and B) really going to use it?

I have heard, and can't really refute, the argument that the small-scale bottom-feeding freelancer who downloads photoshop via "unofficial" channels, if s/he is hired one day to work for a company, is most likely to choose Photoshop as the image editing software for the company's advertising department, and thus cause Adobe to make a multi-license sale, but that is not going to be a very large percentage of all those people who are downloading it.

I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure that probably 90% of the people who download Photoshop not only are never in a position to cause their boss to buy even one copy, but after fooling with it enough to see that there is a pretty steep learning curve involved, simply leave it in their Program Files folder and forget about it. (And go download some other wildly popular program that they will probably never even learn to use!)

So Adobe's flagship product, like all its products, and like just about every other piece of "commerical" software, including the Windows operating system itself, is freely available to the general public at no cost, and there is not really anything that the software companies can do about that.

I know that there are all kinds of plans and schemes and task forces and digital millennium pronouncements, and that has been the case for some time, and I imagine will continue to be the case for some time, and no doubt all that provides the people who are involved with a very real psychological benefit.

But there is not really any way to change that downloadable reality.

You mentioned honesty, and a lot of the discussions I have seen on this subject, especially those where most of the participants are from the US or Europe, will sooner or later get into the subject of intellectual property, and ethics as related to that. For many people, to download Photoshop without paying for it constitutes theft - the theft of intellectual property. That is, for them, a core value, it is part of their cultural context, and the laws in the US reflect that cultural norm, that core value.

But you might discuss the subject with someone from a different culture, and their view could be completely different! To that person, honesty might not even enter into the picture. Their concept of honesty might be completely different from yours - and both views equally irrelevant to the ones and zeros that populate the download directories all over the globe!

Although some governments have tried, and continue to try, dividing the web up according to cultural tradition, value systems, and legal jurisdictions, or isolating particular populations from the larger body of internet citizenry, does not seem to be working out, and I do not intend that to be a diss against the very bright and talented people in any particular country who have done such hard work on those kinds of projects, nor those who are just as talented and work just as hard on "copy protection."

It is just that there are many, many people who use the internet, many, many people who click mice, and whatever programmatic strategy I might come up with to, for instance, prevent you from viewing web pages that reside on servers outside of say, Malaysia, somebody somewhere in the world is going to develop a workaround for that, and make that workaround available to you, even if your computer literacy stops at checking your email and a couple of favorite websites.

Similarly, whatver scheme I devise to prevent you from being able to run a copy of Photoshop that you download from a website not authorized by Adobe to offer the program for download, somebody somewhere is going to come up with a workaround for THAT, and so on.

The web, unlike laws, or beliefs, or cultures, is universal! And it is that universality that is presenting entire industries with the challenge of developing new ways of doing things on a very fundamental level, in order to adapt to these new realities.

Meanwhile, the open source Gimp project continues to steadily improve, and come closer to being a truly realistic replacement for Photoshop, and a larger percentage of people who download the GImp are actually going to use it, despite its learning curve, and the ones that can DO support it.

There is already a Gimp product, Gimpshop, that openly seeks to resemble Photoshop more closely, and I think that we can expect to see that march apace, and in a couple of years, Gimpshop will attain or surpass Open Office in its "open source alternativehood," precisely because as you say, most people are willing to support good software - Whether they would consider it dishonest to download Photoshop or not, those with the skills would definitely embrace the opportunity to be part of a project whose goal is to produce image editing software that is BETTER than Photoshop!

In other words, that very universality of the web that challenges all those traditional business models has the potential, in my opinion, to form itself into a new and, to use one of my pet peeve born-cliche memes, "reality-based" model.
One man's conspiracy is another man's business plan
« Last Edit: May 09, 2008, 06:34:19 AM by cathodera »

vizacc

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Re: Software Ethics
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2008, 08:37:59 AM »

tinjaw,
sorry for the late reply. i got really busy.

Quote
advantage of the market and put the other guys out of business.

good idea.