Environment, Technology, and Society
Exercise: Warranting Performance of Software
- To understand better the relationship between a technological product
and its users, especially their expectations about its performance.
Work in teams of three or four people based on the number in the upper
right hand corner of this page.
Background: You've all used software before. Many of you have
bought software, from the operating system that came installed on
your computer, to productivity software such as a word processor, to games.
Have you ever been dissatisfied with a software product? Have you ever
been so dissatisfied that you wanted a refund? Have you ever read the
license agreement for a software package? You might be surprised.
- Make a list of the features for which a software producer can reasonably
offer a warranty on product performance. Why can the producer
offer a warranty on each feature, and why should the producer offer
a warranty on each feature?
- For each feature on your list, identify (1) actions that the producer can
take to ensure that the software meets the warranty and (2) remedies that
the producer should provide if the feature fails.
- What features should a software producer not warrant in its
product? Why not?
At the End
- You argue your case in class.
- Your group submits its write-up.
Summary from Exercise
A few years ago, the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier ran a series of
articles about a case that came to mind when I prepared for today.
read about the case on-line.
A quick summary: an Iowa couple was charged with tax fraud, and a major
part of their defense was that they relied on Quicken, a tax software
package, and got confused. The jury was apparently unmoved by this
argument, in light of the size of the error (five or six figures...).
The result was jail time.
This case wasn't about warranties, per se, but about usability (or just
plain criminal behavior). But it does highlight that some software is
hard to use, perhaps so hard as to prevent its successful use. Making
warranty on how a user uses a tool seems pretty risky, beyond saying that
within prescribed bounds of use the tool will function correctly.
(Oh, and never underestimate the "fool" in "foolproof". While thinking
about this session, I was also reminded of a legal case we covered in one
of my undergraduate Business Law courses. Two guys used a lawn mower as
a hedge trimmer! They lifted the mower up by its shell and walked, one
on each side of the hedge, holding the mower at the top of the plant.
Sadly, one of the guys slipped and lost all of his fingers when they met
the blade. In the suit, these men claimed that the manufacturer did not
expressly disclaim this use and that therefore they should be held liable
for the "failure". They won the case! I would have laughed if this case
didn't say something so sad about the intelligence of some consumers and
the state of our civil justice system!)
Could a software producer -- or the producer of any complex technological
device -- ever offer a warranty on the use of its product?
Well, of course. A car is a "complex technological device", and auto
makers offer quite detailed warranties on their products. Hosts of other
complex products come with warranties. These range from cutting-edge
technologies to cut-and-dried technologies.
What is the purpose of a warranty? A warranty is not a claim that
the product will not break. For systems of any reasonable complexity,
such a claim is unreasonable. As some of you pointed out, a warranty
is more about customer satisfaction. It says, "Even if this product
fails, we want you to be happy. So we will bear the cost of failure (or
some part thereof) for some period of time." Now we are in a realm
where software warranties make sense.
Many of you made the claim that software is different from other products,
which is true, and that, as a result, software warranties are unreasonable.
If your intent in making the warranty is to claim that the software will
not break, you are right. If you take the broader view of warranties as
a means to curry customer favor, then not offering a warranty of some
sort is unreasonable.
Keep in mind that computers and software are increasingly used by
non-technical people who are not fazed by claims that software is
"different". My dad made cars for a living. at one of those auto makers,
and to him giving a warranty is just a part of doing business. It will
take more than our strident claim that advanced technologies are different
to convince people like him that software developers shouldn't be doing
more to ensure our customers' satisfaction.
So, developers of software and other advanced devices face a couple of
- They must help users understand why software is different.
But, in order to do this, wewill have to think hard ourselves to
answer this question.
- They must come up with ways to ensure customer satisfaction with their
products, perhaps through warranties that shift reasonable costs of
dissatisfaction to the developer. What is reasonable, and how can the
developer bear them?
Some of the ideas that you offered in class as to how software is
different: the environment in which software operates is complex,
increasingly varied, and increasingly autonomous; the potential complexity
(which means things we might not anticipate when developing the software)
is much greater than for many systems. (But keep the lawn mower guys in
I overhead one group say, "Well, a program should do what it promises to
do." What does a word processor, for example, promise to do? How do we
know when it has delivered?
- Prior to handing out the activity the class discussed intellectual
property, mainly cameras versus software. It was also discovered that
the software industry is far bigger than the music industry.
In group activity my group came up with the following answers to the questions that were asked.
- Features that software producers can offer a warranty: guarantee
to work with the operating system, grammar checks should distinguish
between homonyms, equipment for games and programs should interchange
with the system or computer.
We said that a producer can offer a warranty because they made the product, so they can do whatever they want with it.
We said that a producer should offer a warranty to ensure customer satisfaction and confidence.
- For actions for each feature on our list we said that for work
with the operating system to try it on different operating systems and
line up a customer service department for feedback. For the grammar
check we said to test all grammar problems. For the games to
interchange with all systems we said to test and retest so it would be
compatible with all systems.
For remedies for each we said (In the same order as the
preceeding question) provide patches and updates to keep the program running
smooth, have the software be sensitive to how a word is used in a
sentence or paragraph, and for the games to replace equipment or give
- We said that a producer should not put a warranty on a product if
it is intentionally ruined.
When the class came together for a discussion we mentioned many
things. Among them were that there are many products with a warrant
and that some people think that if a product has no warranty it is not
a good product. We also said that warranties will include if a
product is defective. Another thing that was brought up was that
warranties should have limitations such as how long they will last and
what a company will do. Warranties show that a company is confident
in a product, but if it does malfunction they will take steps to
correct the problem. We summed up class by saying that warranties
should say how you should use a product, and the warranty should
include an agreement between the user and the manufacturer.
- Class was started with a discussion of intellectual property based on
the conference Prof. Wallingford attended last week. He mentioned how
there had been a debate when cameras and film were first developed
over whether the picture taken was that person's property and whether
a photographer or anyone needed permission before taking a person's
property. This was then related to the use of software and how use of
it is or is not regulated after it has been downloaded and such. This
discussion led to the topic for the day: warranties on products. The
class discussed whether or not software producers could and should
provide warranties on their products. They discussed which features
should have warranties and which should not. It was decided that
warranties are in place to guarantee satisfaction, not to guarantee
that the product will work perfectly all the time. The purpose is to
let customers know that if something goes wrong, the company will help
to rectify the problem, and if necessary, bear some of the cost.
However, there must be limitations to this because some people will
find ways to take advantage of it. Basically, warranties show that
the companies understand that their product is not perfect and that
they are willing to do something about it if something goes wrong.
- The class activity for Tuesday included thinking about warranties on
software. My group and I tried to think of aspects of software that
should include a warranty, why and how the warranty should be dealt
with. I thought it was very difficult to think of warranties on
software. When you are talking about something like a microwave, it is
easy to tell what the warranty is for. If a part of the microwave is
under warranty and it breaks, the warranty covers it. However, with
software, there are often intangible aspects that are hard to
conceptualize. There is also a problem with warranties in software
because often times it is the user's fault when something goes wrong.
During our class discussion, we learned that software doesn't have a
normal warranty. Instead, it often has a disclaimer which says that if
something happens outside of 90 days of buying it - tough. Consumers
agree to these warranties when they open the package or install it on
- Today's class was about warranties and how companies issue them. The
Class started off with a discussion about copyright. We discussed that
there are four different catorgories of copyright;commercial purpose
created, nonprofit commercial created, commercial purpose transform,
and nonprofit purpose transform. The main discussion of the class was
whether or not software producers should provide a waranty. Some
argued that it is not economically feasible to provide a warranty on
software. Someone said that if a company tested and made a program
error proof that would take too much time and the product would not be
released. The first question on our handout was what kind of features
can a software producer offer a warranty. My group decide that the
producer should provide a warranty cover the interference with other
programs and that the program be downloadable. In the closing
discussion we discussed that Apple has a short warranty on it's media
but programs do not have to work. The last point that was mentioned
that caught my ear was the many types of virus software can actually
delete some documents and programs off the hard drive. With this
information I concluded that software producers would have a hard time
warranting their product. For some people this is a difficult concept
to understand because why would they buy a product the company is not
willing to warrant or stand behind.
Eugene Wallingford ====
November 20, 2003