Steal This Software?

Short questions: What is the difference between stealing software and buying it?

Your good nature, better judgment, and clear conscious aside, what IS the difference between stealing software and buying it to the user?

For me, it really comes down to one simple thing: product support. Obviously, if I steal or copy software, I cannot expect EVER to get support for the product. If I find a bug, the software screws up, or I cannot figure out how to make it work…well, too bad for me. Or is it?

Many software companies today have decided that support is something you purchase in addition to the product. Often, as was the case with Intuit for a long time, as well as Symantec, just to name a few, support was very limited or non-existent, and if you needed support for their product, they were right there ready to help you, so long as you had money in your hand and were willing to fork it over. Often this service cost more than the software itself. In this case, stealing the software is EXACTLY like buying. You get the same support options, buying support, and you “paid” much less for the software.

The purchase price of the software MUST contain a reasonable amount of support included, or the difference between copying from a friend and buying it becomes nil!

I have just run into this again with Dantz Corporation. Dantz was a fairly small company for a long time. And while I have been using this software for about 15 years, I have only had to call 3 times for support, and their solutions were quick and the support was excellent. It was one solid program that did not need much help. But something has changed.

First off, product support is now only 30 days FROM PURCHASE! If it takes you 10 days to get it all installed and set up, you get 20 days of free support, and then you are on your own! Even Symantec, whose support was limited to 90 days, did not start their 90-day clock until your first call for support!

Second, this is not some $35 utility. The software is $799 for the Mac, or $1079 if you want a year’s support! If you opt for the $800 purchase, 30 days later you are on your own. Oh, you can pay $69 for a “single incident” problem, which seems a bit steep to me, but of you make more than 4 calls, you end up spending even more.

And Dantz is not alone here by any means. Almost all software companies are now unbundling support from the product because the costs are growing too fast.

I recently bought Missing Sync from Mark/Space Inc, and it failed miserably to do what was advertised. I discovered what was missing in missing sync: besides missing backing up important data from my Treo, what was also missing was any support! My only support option was to send them an email, which they answered over 1 week later with a note to update, and not much else in the way of help. The update made no difference, and I am sure they knew that! My follow-up questions and comments have been unanswered now over two weeks. I also discovered that Missing Sync purposely damaged my older Palm software already installed on my Mac so it would no longer work (they do not warn you it will do that!), so I was unable to go back to that for sync as well. AND, they keep damaging Palm’s sync software if you reinstall it until you remove Missing Sync’s software first. That’s just wrong! I had to scour forums and boards to get help; the company was no help at all. I wanted to return the software because it did not work as advertised. Guess what, you HAVE to buy it on-line, but there is NO way to return it and get a refund. Here is an example where I wish I had stolen this software actually. At least, given the lack of support on this misrepresented product, I would not feel so ripped off now and I would not buy from them again. So their lack of support only damaged them, because now I tell all my friends (and you here) to avoid this software. So how did this help them?

Note to companies: If you do not want people to rip off your software, do not rip them off in service and support. Simple really.

On the other hand, some companies are getting smarter!

Intuit figured this out. Their support for Quicken for the Macintosh had basically gone to posting a question on a forum on their website, and checking back often to see if anyone answered. No phone support or email support of any kind, unless you wanted to pay over $1 per minute to sit on a 1-900 number! Gee, no wonder so many people stole Quicken! Those who stole it got the EXACT same support options as those who bought it. But Intuit got smart, and they now offer a good number of support options for registered users of their software. I do not know if sales are up again, but I’ll bet they are, and I recently bought the new version to show support for their new support features.

But I have to ask, do these companies do this on purpose to make more money? ANYONE in the software business knows that today’s programs are so complex and large that they WILL have bugs and errors. One can easily extrapolate that to knowing that there will be a need for support calls. And if they can charge for those calls…. Sure, the costs of support are high, but did they not consider this when they designed and built their complex piece of software?

Or do they now realize that software theft is now so rampant, that they can make more money by letting people copy it for free, and then charge to support it? If this is the case, then why not just give the software away for free and charge for service? Obviously, this is not the case, but it feels like it sometimes.

I cannot think of a single piece of software I have purchased lately that has not had bugs, some small, some large, but all of which would normally require support to get fixed properly. In most cases, I am limited to sending an email to support and getting back a canned answer that does not solve the problem. 3 or 4 rounds of that nonsense and I, like most, usually give up, which is exactly what they want you to do. I work around the bugs, and so be it. But it does affect my buying decision when I need to update. The more bugs, the more I want to find something else. And often, when there is a choice, I make a switch. For example, I now use TaxCut from H&R Block because TurboTax for the Mac was so buggy, and offered so little support in the past. Even if they are better now, I already made the switch.

The bottom line these days is that even I have considered copying software from my friends. I am so tired of being ripped off with high prices for software only to find that it is full of bugs, for which I have to pay support to get fixed, some day, in a future release.

But I think the consumer is partially at fault here too. Not just because so many people “borrow” software from their friends, which IS part of the problem. But because these companies receive hundreds of calls from users to get help on basic features that are readily answered in the manual, the user guides, the on-line help forums, and FAQs. The users need to take some responsibility and have a little patience as well. I would say that 7 times out of 10 calls to customer service could usually be solved by taking some time and reading the available documentation. If the number of calls to customer service would go down, so would the cost of customer service in general.

So, BUY that software from those companies that support their products. Read the I^&%%(* manual (RTFM!) and search the web for help before you pick up the phone. A little support from the customer, and maybe we can get a little support back from the software companies in return.

And to the software companies: support your buggy software! 30 days is not enough! Take the clock out of the equation; I have no idea when I will first need help. Make your support contracts reasonable, after all, we are calling because you either have bugs or the software is badly designed and hard to use. Why should we pay for your problems? Treat your customers with respect and they will come back to buy your product again and again. Treat them like dirt, and they will steal it when they need a newer version, or buy from your competitor. After all, what do they have to give up if it does not work and cost too much to get help?

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