Ethics in IT aren't always the greatest. Unlike in the medical or teaching fields there isn't a board or organisation that outlines how IT professionals should act.
This article is focused on the subscription based software model and why it's not good as you might think. I will be split up into several parts and the first set I'll use secular ethics because both software companies and consumers generally use secular ethics when looking at software. In the later articles to follow I'll focuses on the same issue but using Christian ethics.
Now secular ethics are somewhat fluid and there is technically no wrong answer. I want you to ask what is ethical software? To do this I'll be using the Ethical Decision Making Model as outlined in the book "The Ethical Technologist." This model is easy to follow and draws conclusions based on logic rather than social or intrinsic factors. The book also provides a decent overview of ethics in an IT setting.
Definitions: what is a subscription based software? Its model is where the end user pays a recurring subscription fee for access to software. The model is a newer business model and is becoming more commonly used with software from larger companies. It has often been touted as a cheaper alternative to buying software outright (that would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive to obtain). The reduce entry price has also been used to try and make software more affordable so that piracy is less of an issue in the professional and 'prosumer' software market. The current most notable software products to use a subscription based model are Adobe with Creative Cloud and Microsoft with Office 365. I'll be using both these company's software sales models as examples throughout this article.
|1||Professional (not acting in the best interest of the end user)||Software holds files ransom|
|2||Professional (not acting in the best interest of the end user)||Inappropriate use of cloud features & what happens to the software when the cloud service is discontinued?|
|3||Intrinsic/Social||Software may not necessarily cost less|
|4||Intrinsic/Social||Subscription includes maintenance and updates|
Subscription based software isn't always made in the best interest of the end user. One of the things that most companies don't make well-known is "what happens to user's project files when they stop paying their subscription fee?"
In Adobes case, you lose the ability to edit your files because the software stops working; until you renew the subscription. This means if you want to access to any of your work you need to keep paying the fee. Essentially once you start paying for the Creative Cloud software Adobe have a life time subscriber to their software. So, you better like Adobe, what they stand for and how treat you as an end user. If you disagree with how they act as a company you're unlikely to change software because it will be too expensive, too time consuming/disruptive to retrain staff and you'll have to rebuild the multimedia library; that you have amassed over the last 5 to 10+ years.
Microsoft are a little nicer with office 365. With office 365 when you stop playing the subscription you can still edit your files but you can't create any new ones. With the many office formats, there are a multitude of other non-Microsoft software that can edit them.
When companies add, cloud features it's not always in the best interest of the people using the software. Now to keep a cloud service running companies often charge subscription fees which is ok. Large server arrays and farms don't run for nothing and there are monetary costs for equipment, maintenance, administration, power and for people who write the software. However, adding a subscription to software that would otherwise function without a connection to the cloud is not on. If the cloud connection doesn't add anything to functionality of the software than it shouldn't be included.
As an end user, you also need to need to ask yourself what happens to my application when the company shuts down the server the software connects to? By paying a subscription for software your handing over a considerable amount of control to the developer. In most cases, you are just renting the software because you're only paying for a license to use the software an amount of time. Under Australian law companies aren't also required to keep their cloud connected software working if they go bankrupt or decided to discontinue the software. In other words, the user is at the mercy of the developer to keep their software functional and developers aren't obligated to act in a way that is in best interests of the users.
In this section, we going to look at a rather nasty peace of secular ethics. With secular ethics if you can convince the majority that intrinsically something to their determent is for the betterment you can literally make people do something that was previously considered crazy. We call this a catch 22 and it is scary as hell in application.
Cost: Many companies try very hard to convince you that subscription based software is cheaper than buying it outright. The reason companies do this is so that they can make subscribing to software the norm. If this were to happen it would be horrible because as we have seen subscription based software isn't always created in the bet interest of the end user.
While subscription based software can cheaper but it's often not. Let's look at Microsoft Office which every two years has cost between $600 and $300 (office 2016 costs $299) and if you upgraded every two or so years from Office 2003 to 2016 you would have forked out a considerable amount of money. Office 365 on the other hand costs about $158.40 a year which is $316.80 for every two years. This means that Office is 2016 is about $17 less expensive. Also, if you like myself and 99% of businesses you probably didn't upgraded office every two years. I'd still be using Office 2010 if UNI didn't provide for office 365 for me. Assuming I bought Office 2016 and used it for 6 years I'd just have to pay $299 instead of paying $1900.80 for 6 years of office 365.
There is no rule that commands you to upgrade every time a new version comes out. What was the last new feature in office that made you think: hmm I must upgrade to the latest version of office because I must have that new feature I can't live without? Exactly you haven't and except for handful of features you can do everything in office 2003 that you can do in 2016. This is also true for the most part with adobes CS3 to CC. Although there are some exceptions like with Premier where you need to update if you want newer codec support for importing and exporting. In that case paying for new features makes sense so that you to stay competitive in the rapidly changing film format landscape.
Maintenance and Updates:
But Zach what if I want the latest features and patches? Okay, for features yes that's a good reason to pay a subscription for software unless you're paying to be a beta tester. In the latter case, you're paying for access to unfinished software which isn't a wise decision if you are using such software in a business or production environment. Like I said before if you don't need any new features and the program still runs on you operating system than you don't need upgraded.
But what about continued support? Patches to fix bugs has traditionally been offered for free or has at least been factored in to the sails price. Again, companies telling you that such fixes can only be attained via a subscription is catch 22 territory. When a software product is released it should be fit for purpose. We see developers release fixes for programs so that the software continues to be fit for purpose (with in its specifications). If you're interested, you should look at how the ACCC views software and in what state it is supposed to be sold in.
So, I've hoped I've helped you look at a section of IT that perhaps you probably hadn't thought about before. This is by no means an all-inclusive look at the issue of subscription based software but I hope that I have at least got you thinking about it and some of the issues that it presents.
Zach Radloff lives on the Gold Coast and is studying IT and Multimedia at university, and is also a qualified Live Production, Theatre and Events Technician.
Zach Radloff's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/zach-radloff.html