I wish I could erase the concept of software "maintenance" from the world mindset. Software is not a physical thing that can wear out or break. "Software Maintenance" is market-speak for "bug fixing".
Yes, plus support and a certain level of upgrade. Some software companies won't talk to you about program bugs or problems if you aren't paid up. Protel provides that support free, and the users have provided themselves even better. So there still remains bug fixes and improvements. A missing feature is not necessarily a bug!
Manufacturers of physical items frequently perform corrective action at no charge to the customer - vehicle recalls, for example.
Yes, though that might have something to do with legal consequences. Your software breaks, usually there is not a huge amount of consequential damages. If it trashes your hard drive entirely, it could be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as what happens when your SUVs roll over and kill people.
Auto manufacturers do *not* issue any recalls merely to improve function. Sometimes I think they may replace things that break prematurely, but I have a suspicion that they only do this if these things breaking causes further damage to the car, which they then have to fix if the car is under warranty.
Why should software be any different?
Because software is *very* different. It's not a thing, it is information. If a book has a misprint, does the publisher replace it? (Not very often!) And for a publisher to replace a single copy of a book would cost them a couple of dollars. To fix a bug may cost them many thousands of dollars. Good programmers are not cheap.
(Some bugs may be easy to fix, but my guess is that most of those were fixed in the early service packs. So Altium *does* do free software maintenance, and they do it for more than a year. How long are they obligated to do it without further compensation?
It might be very good public relations for them to issue an SP7, and, as I've mentioned, the Association might assist in that; more about this below.
I expect software bugs to be fixed for free.
You say it yourself:
Of course, the software world doesn't meet my expectations.
Yes. It is not just Altium, in fact, Altium may be the best of the bunch, or at least up there with the best.
Is that my fault, for having unreasonable expectations, or is it the software producer's fault, for not living up to reasonable expectations? I choose to believe the latter.
The very concept of assigning fault is what comes from a fractured world-view, us vs. them.
To have unreasonable expectations is a fault, though, if it leads us to unreasonable actions. Isn't it? My point is that the expectation is reasonable only to a point and within limits, and the expectation of unlimited, no expiration, bug fixes is definitely not reasonable, especially with small-market software.
IMO, the software world is in terrible shape. The main reason free software exists is because some users got tired of being endlessly gouged by commercial software developers' prices and their lack of concern about fixing bugs, and decided to write their own stuff.
Which I support whole-heartedly. Now, why don't we write our own EDA software? Actually, there would be an easier and better course, and it would make, I think, practically everyone happy. We buy Altium. Seriously. It's a public corporation, we don't even have to buy all of it to control it. And since we would control it to its own benefit as well as our own, we probably wouldn't have to buy much of it at all.
How much would each user have to spend for stock for us to buy 51% of it?
Individually, we are small and Altium is huge. But collectively, we are huge and Altium is small. They work for us (collectively), not the other way around. Yet we often treat them as a bad boss treats his employees: with contempt and, yes, unreasonable expectations.
This kind of issue is my real interest, perhaps my life work, if it ever matures. There is an early draft at www.beyondpolitics.org, but the ideas could be expressed much more clearly, and I'm working on that. They could be used to manage any organization that needs a coherent democratic process without becoming an undue burden, and without falling prey to the control-clique problems that afflict too many organizations and societies.
That's great, but the problem with much of the free software is that it's poorly documented, very rough around the edges, and sometimes missing many needed features.
Because the management process is weak. Now, how could one have strong management with a bunch of volunteers? I believe it is possible. Time will tell if I am right. Interestingly, nearly everyone that has heard the BeyondPolitics ideas thinks it is a great idea and could work, but few are willing to invest the couple of minutes it would take to actually do something.
Notwithstanding, more and more free software is being deployed. In some areas, this is eroding the commercial viability of commercial software. And how do commercial software vendors respond to this trend? Not by reducing their prices and fixing the bugs! By increasing their prices, changing licensing terms, adding product activation, and changing file formats to get lock-in.
Let me put it this way. Microsoft's XP licensing procedure has caused me to not buy it. I'll stay with W2000, which is fine so far. I've written many times that software piracy may cause less damage than the steps taken to prevent it. Software piracy obviously becomes a serious problem if it becomes the norm, as was happening with music.
The problem is that software companies like to treat every use of a pirated copy as a loss. It isn't. Only if the user would have purchased the software otherwise does it become reasonable in any way to consider it a loss. Now, the user who uses the program illegally will very often, if the software is good, end up buying it, perhaps with the next version, perhaps when his company is moderately successful and the legal risk becomes an issue, for whatever reason, he buys the software. Now, what software does he buy? Usually he buys what he is familiar with. I know I do. For example, I use Eudora software. Now, Qualcomm made it easy to get and use the software, they originally had two versions: free and paid, and the paid had many more useful features. But the free was still good. I used the free at a certain point. Then they issued an intermediate version, called Sponsored. You get all the features of the paid version, but you tolerate a little box with an ad in it, they make their money that way. Eventually, I bought the paid version, for use on one of my computers, the others -- like my wife's -- have the Sponsored version.
In other words, pirated software does resemble to a degree a full-function demo. Now, all this is not lost on Altium's management, I'm quite sure. They originally had a hardware key on Protel. At some point, there was a serious technical problem and they realized it was going to cost them a fortune to replace all the keys. So, instead, they went to a software key and released that feature immediately. I have a suspicion that their sales did not go down, but even if they did go down a little, the long term effect, with software like Protel, would be in increase in sales by making it easy to pirate the software, but not so easy that it becomes the norm.
And they apparently never looked back. The current demo is simple to extend, and it is full-function. I think it's funny to see pirates offering Protel software CDs, because those who buy them are getting cheated (*even if they actually get the CD, which might be rare*). I fully support efforts by software companies to legally throw the book at true software pirates, by which I mean those who sell bootleg software.
(And, no, I'm not going to explain, ever, how to extend the demo. I've never done it, I just am completely convinced that it would work, it is impossible that it wouldn't. And I know I'm not the first person to think of it. And, yes, it is probably illegal, though I'm not certain about that.)
Think about it - how much interest would there be in Linux if Microsoft dropped the price of W2K and XP to $39 for a full license version, got rid of activation, fixed all the security bugs and buffer overflows, and published all of their API's and file formats (even the undocumented calls)? Much of the interest in Linux would quickly evaporate if this were to happen.
I can tell you that I'd buy it immediately. I'd pay more than that; in fact, I'd probably pay the current upgrade price.
My own view is that our society (and it is one world now) has reached the limits of what can be done with existing social forms, and the latter are rapidly breaking down, being unable to adapt to new conditions as quickly as conditions are changing. The situation with software is just one tiny example. Microsoft thinks it is successful, but.... I know some people who lost a fair amount of money holding Microsoft stock....
Free software can be great, but it won't save the world.
Right. Partly because it is not free, someone else is paying the price. Voluntarily, but they are still paying it.
Commercial software can be great, but it's straying further and further from the good value it should be. I should be able to buy a boxed retail OS for $39, a great boxed office package for $39, and a boxed RAD IDE compiler for $199 or less. Since this is not the case, Linux and other free software is the next best alternative. And it will remain so, until the software producers wake up and realize their prices are too high.
I'll agree that the prices are too high. I do think that many programs would sell many more units if the price were lower. At some point, however, lowering the price further would not increase sales sufficiently, so it would lower the profit, it is a classic business problem.
I think the whole model is wrong, or, more accurately, obsolete. The public Linux model is *closer* to what I think will work, but it is not there yet, as far as I know. Those who do the programming will need to be paid, or they won't be able to put the focused energy into the project. You can do a lot with large groups of volunteers, each one of which puts in only a small amount of time, what they can spare without pain -- in fact, this is part of the Beyond Politics concept -- but some positions require full-time work. But who pays the paycheck and who controls the work, which amounts to the same question. I'd put the users in control, through a very simple political process.... and, as now, it would be the users who would pay those paychecks.
What if buying a Protel license bought you a share in the corporation, and the total number of outstanding shares was equal to the number of licenses, (plus, maybe, a minority of investor shares)? The legal structure is already there, it doesn't have to be invented. What I'd add to that would be essentially a nervous system for the organization, so the bottom can talk to the top and the top can talk to the bottom without everyone becoming overwhelmed with information traffic. Biology solved the problem long ago, and to take this into political systems involves little more, I think, than what I call the delegable proxy, plus a new responsibility on the part of the proxy, who not only represents the individual to the corporation, but who also, now, represents the corporation to the individual; for this reason proxy collection might be limited in ways unlike present corporations. (In biological terms, only so many nerves connect directly with a single synapse.) People who like chaotic systems, fractals, and self-organizing structures might be interested....
And if you think I'm full of bovine waste, please tell me how I might clean it up!
Abd ul-Rahman Lomax
LOMAX DESIGN ASSOCIATES
PCB design, consulting, and training
Protel EDA license resales
Easthampton, Massachusetts, USA
(413) 527-3881, efax (419) 730-4777
1 Protel 99SE license for sale, $3500 OBO.
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