The Mac App Store has caused a bit of controversy in regards to “software entitlement.” The basic idea being, when a person purchases a piece of software, what are they entitled to?
Pixelmator made waves when they told users that they would have to “re-purchase” Pixelmator from the Mac App Store in order to get version 2.0. They made up for this by offering an introductory price of $30. People were outraged that they had to pay $30 for the same piece of software they already owned, without rationalizing the fact that version 2.0 likely would not have been free and that $30 to upgrade is more than reasonable. This assumes of course that they trust Pixelmator to release 2.0 as an update to the version currently in the app store.
That trust backfired to users of CoverSutra, who were told via their registration e-mail for the current version1 that they would receive free updates until version 3.0 was released. Developer Sophia Teutschler decided to move CoverSutra exclusively to the app store with version 2.5 and charge $5 for the application. This started a firestorm against her for going against what she told customers regarding free upgrades. Sophia claimed she forgot that she had put that in the e-mail and that if she had simply versioned the Mac App Store version as 3.0, she would have saved herself the headache. Ben Brooks called her out for showing no remorse nor attempting to fix the problem.
These two examples above, illustrate a growing problem in the software industry, demanding customers who quickly go on the offensive when they feel cheated, whether they truly have been or not. Computer users are not solely to blame. Society in general2 has adopted these traits about many facets of life. Knee-jerk reactions, lawsuits, violence and sensationalism have caused every minor hiccup to be blown out of proportion.
The big question is whether or not the users of software have a right to be upset or not. When purchasing a piece of software, is a customer entitled to future features at no or a reduced cost? Should the customer be guaranteed some level of technical support? What about bug fixes? How about compatibilities with future OS upgrades?
The issue seems to lie with the fact that licensing software creates a vested interest for the end-user. When someone purchases a car, once their warranty expires they no longer have any loyalty to the car manufacturer3. They can use that car without having to interact with the manufacturer. With software, that is not true. Bug fixes and compatibility updates are needed to keep current with security and OS patches. If a person purchases a piece of software today and the developer disappears, and OS X 10.7 is released, and the app no longer works, the user is out of luck. That is not likely true in the car example above.
Software is tricky because it’s so foreign to most people. 90% of computer users likely take for granted the amount of time and effort required to produce even a simple piece of software. One man/woman shops like Sophiestication have a limited amount of time and resources. That time can be dedicated to bug fixes, which keeps current users happy, or to new features, which may attract new users. Both impact revenue, since unhappy current customers can deter new customers.
Many smaller software development “companies” are one (or several) person. Sometimes the development of the software is secondary to the person’s day job. Sometimes it is their day job. In the cases of these one-man shops, it’s not unusual for circumstances to arise4 which cause development to slow or stop.
Therefore the key to minding expectations is simply identify the track record of the company and use the eye test. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Adobe have been making software for years and most people can take comfort in knowing that the existing versions will be maintained for a significant amount of time. Medium size shops like Panic, Barebones and Smile also give a certain level of confidence, but do pose some risk. Smaller one-man shops like Red Sweater, Hog Bay and Sophiestication require the end user to take a certain level of risk.
The bottom line is that users aren’t entitled to anything. Most companies offer trials/demos so that a user can ensure that the software is what they are looking for5. When making a purchase however, a user should expect that what they see is what they get as far as features/updates go. While I believe software developers are ethically responsible to provide support in some way to paying customers, as a customer I prepare myself for the worst. The internet created this mess, but it is also a valuable aid in mitigating it. There are plenty of resources full of information that can help make sure a person is making the correct purchase based on other people’s past experiences. Do your homework and you will likely be fine.
- 2.x [↩]
- Probably thanks in large part to the anonymity, speed and breadth of the internet [↩]
- Sure it benefits the owner for the car manufacturer to stay in business but there are third party parts that would likely be usable to fix a car if need be [↩]
- Decreased sales, personal obligations, growing disinterest [↩]
- My personal harsh opinion is that if they don’t, then it’s buyer beware [↩]