Subject: warranties on software [was: www.oreilly.com -- Tangled Webs: What Gives Them the Right?]
From: "Federico Lucifredi" <flucifredi@acm.org>
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 19:48:12 -0500

>> Not necessarily.  Every boxed piece of software comes with a warranty.
>> Free software cannot, and that's one of the things that people don't
>> like about free software.
>
>Why can't it? How is it different from proprietary software in this
>respect?


I Will agree that it is tougher for free software than for commercial
entities to offer warranties about their product (why ? because Open Source
and Free Software efforts are the result of volunteer's work. these people
don't want to be charged with responsibilities coming from something they
already did for (almost) free).

Now, my question is, would it be legal (and worthwhile) for a commercial
third party to offer guarantees of some kind (bugfixes within a certain
time, warranties, etc) on certain distributions of open/free software they
control ? Say, for instance, RH offering some kind of warranty on their
Linux distribution ?

I don't see it happening without a commercial entity involved because
warranties ultimately mean lawsuits (and other expenses) when those
conditions are not met. It must be /rewarding/ for some entity to offer
those guarantees - and it is definitely only a burden to the vast majority
of unpaid volunteers that are ultimately the source of OSS/FS.

I am sure the people that post in this insightful mailing list will have
arguments to prove me wrong - and I'd love to hear them. But I also have
another point: as a citizen of the EU I find amusing the issues on actual
enforceability of "open this package and you are bound by this contract"
labels. They are simply not enforceable in most of the EU states (England
might be the exception, but I am not sure about that). More to the point,
software licenses come with plenty of disclaimers but not anything that
would be called a warranty on the old world side of the Atlantic. The only
guarantees I can see are:

-(maybe) you can call the software producer for a limited time and get
installation support. RH does this already. I will agree that certain
developers love on call support, though - in fact a platform specification I
drafted last week was returned to me because I advocated PHP over ASP, and
the developer wants someone to go panicking to when something does not work.
The availability of source code is not comforting enough to people that are
not able to read it =(

-defective media are guaranteed for (usually) 90 days. I assume the
commercial OSS/FS distributors will do the same (and are probably more
friendly at it, too).

I have a Wolfram Research license agreement on my table. it is pretty
mainstream. You have no guarantees whatsoever. specifically, WRI does not
warrant:

-"that  the software is free from all bugs" - product sold "as is"
-usability for ANY purpose
-merchantability
-proper function ("uninterrupted operation", "error free operation")

it also goes on to saying that some states prohibit the exclusion of implied
warranties (Phew!) and that what you are reading might not apply to you.
Good. too bad they don't list such cases. I remember with amusement when I
read the license agreement of the OS of my first PC, in the late eighties.
It went off to say that if the agreement violated my constitutional rights
certain clauses might not apply (Oh, really ?!) - I do not remember if it
was MS-dos 3.2 or Dos Plus from hmmmm. was that Digital Research ?

My point - I fail to see your point about warranties. What warranties are
you talking about, these guys risk violating constitutions when they write
license agreements - not just common law as in the case of the "open this
package and you are bound by it seals". I don't see any software offering
guarantees other than (hopefully) the stuff Rockwell and others certify for
real-time use on airplanes - and even that is subject to doubt, considering
that Ariane's V first launch blew up the Cluster mission because of faulty
guidance software that resulted in structural collapse.

Other than the warranties as a subject themselves , I would love to hear
about how you would suggest OSS/FS noncommercial organizations can go about
offering guarantees - I would like you overturning my argument about
affordability of such guarantees, but I think that's a major problem.


I know I made a sentence of your reply into a different thread, I hope it is
Ok with you (in other words, I hate flames).

/ over - Federico

[*] Muad'Dib of Caladan - flucifredi@acm.org - lucifred@cs.bc.edu
lucifredi@infomedia.it - lucifred@bu.edu - HTTP://www.cs.bc.edu/~lucifred
-- "SuperKeys : of course I hate that name and refuse to use it again" -
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