OT (maybe) - A software parable

larry-peter wrote on 3/17/2014, 12:00 PM
There have been several threads lately that brought my mind back to old familiar territory… I know I’ve said similar things in the deep past, but I feel they still apply.

Consider your car. Would you sign a contract that allowed the manufacturer to “upgrade” parts of your car while you were asleep at night? Especially if you were installing non-manufacturer parts yourself? Say a third-party transfer case to give you 4 wheel drive.

Over time the manufacturer installs new fuel injectors, wheel cylinders, even updates to the engine control unit (Your car’s O/S). Everything’s working great. Then one night a new drive train is installed. Your 4-wheel drive no longer works. (Or maybe you installed a new part yourself that modified a component of the drive train) You contact the transfer case manufacturer to complain. They ask what kind of car you drive. A Ford. They tell you, “we’ve tested our transfer case on Fords and they will work.” You b*tch and moan about the transfer case manufacturer and their terrible product and support.

Is the transfer case manufacturer at fault here, or the person who allowed all the upgrades (or installed new components himself)?

This is tricky territory to navigate, especially when some users understand the entire workings of every part of their vehicle, because they NEED that transfer case on a daily basis to make their living. Others really don’t know what’s under the hood. They like to use 4 wheel drive occasionally and just expect it to work no matter what. Neither the car manufacturer nor the transfer case manufacturer has the guts to tell their users they need to take responsibility for what they’re letting go on under the hood. That would cost them both customers.


videoITguy wrote on 3/17/2014, 12:26 PM
you need not make it so complex. The paradigm is merely ownership, risk-taking, and depreciation. In the auto case, anything I do with the car, for example leave it out in the sun and don't wax - enhances the risk I take for aging and depreciation of value. Anything absolutely anything I do with ownership is my responsibility and ultimately my cost.

Software license due to its very nature is subject to the same. If I install it recklessly, try to combine with hardware and other that might fault it - the game is solely mine. And a software policy of no refunds is there on purpose. High-risk, fast depreciation, and responsibility of ownership.
larry-peter wrote on 3/17/2014, 12:45 PM
videoITguy, You are exactly right. I don't think many view it that way.

For most of the past generation both the O/S manufacturers and software suppliers have basically told users, "Don't worry about what's happening in your computer. We'll take care of it." That kind of worked - up to a point. I think we may be past that point now. The variety of HW and SW that Windows users have access to, constant "automatic updates," in addition to the complex handshaking that needs to go on to enable things we want in our software, like GPU assist, put a greater burden of responsibility and understanding on the user.

Either we take that responsibility or enter MacWorld, where most of the choices are made for us. Are we ready to take on the responsibilities?
riredale wrote on 3/17/2014, 2:34 PM
An interesting analogy. With PCs and Windows one enters the world of near-infinite combinations of hardware and software, which can in turn create an enormous number of unanticipated glitches and gotchas. So which is the better approach? Should one severely limit user flexibility in return for a lowered number of headaches?

I've taken a different route. First, I don't let the dealer work on my car while I sleep, automatically installing "improvements." For a PC that's called "Do not automatically download software updates." Secondly, I have an arrangement with a local mechanic whereby if there should be a problem he can and will automatically roll back any changes to a time when the car ran fine. For a PC that's called backup software.
larry-peter wrote on 3/17/2014, 2:50 PM
At risk of sounding like an old fogey, there was once a time when users of specialized software HAD to take responsibility for the internals of their computer. I worked for years on an IRIX based workstation and because of the software I was using, I had to use a 3 year-old version of IRIX, a specific graphics board, a slower CPU, and I couldn't plug in certain peripherals that others could. Bottom line, it worked perfectly, so I didn't care, and I didn't complain to the software company.

I was actually very pleased that they gave me a stable build, and exact instructions on how to maintain it: Do this exact configuration of hardware and software, and don't ever change anything till we tell you to.

In the software world, trying to please everyone often results in few being pleased.