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back to article Extended software support 'immoral and indefensible'

Are extended software support fees immoral and indefensible? That’s a question that one Gartner analyst has just, in a roundabout way, answered in the affirmative. The analyst in question is Rob Addy, a research director in Gartner's Technology & Service Provider Research division whose bio says he specialises in software and …

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Problem with all that is the software environment (hardware, operating systems, exploits etc.) is always changing. And there are real time and money costs involved with keeping up. Which -if you produce software- you absolutely have to do.

Today's guidance on securing from "the slings and arrows" of outrageous bastards is going to be different to that required tomorrow. Or next week. It costs and that cost has to be factored into the sales price of the software...whether by ongoing fees or a higher initial cost.

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Anonymous Coward

yes but

If you buy a product a certain amount of support should be available, in the case of personal support for say accounting software its 30 days, for product support it usually lasts for a reasonable length of time.

Quickbooks were still updating 2008 when 2012 is now on the market.

But there comes a time when advances in technology demand new product and support can't be indefinate. If you bought a car in 1970 is the manufacturer still liable to supply the parts?

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Facepalm

A 1970s car is...

...such a wrong analogy. Software is not hardware.

There would be a healthy after market for any half decent 1970s car. After all it's not impossible to get parts for cars decades older than that.

Of course if you are using proprietary software it's like owning a car with the bonnet welded shut.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/05/19/ms_in_peruvian_opensource_nightmare/

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Alert

Re: yes but

"If you bought a car in 1970 is the manufacturer still liable to supply the parts?"

Manufacturers should be required to release all documentation freely and relinquish all "intellectual property" when they stop supplying spare parts, so that the public can keep repairing things instead of caving in to our "disposable everything" culture.

Software makers should also be required to release the source code when they stop supporting a product.

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Devil

What about the cost of upgrading ?

Item 4 -" Systems value drift assessments" should also be carried out before upgrading - i.e. analysis of how far the capabilities of the installed system already meet the business requirements and the opportunity costs of re-training and "feature bloat" if updating.

Here, of course, I have in mind a certain "Office Productivity" suite, let alone other products.

And..... Dare I say that using FOSS/Libre software would nicely avoid these issues. I mean truly free software, not stuff where the features that actually make it usable are closed.

Finally - how about initial contract negotiation, ensuring that the escro arrangements (you did make sure those were in place ???) cover access to the source code for ongoing support purposes if excessive charges are levied ? It's only the business practices and conventions of software suppliers that mean this isn't a standard contract condition. If all the users demanded this together......

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Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

"opportunity costs of re-training and "feature bloat" if updating.

Here, of course, I have in mind a certain "Office Productivity" suite, let alone other products."

I find end users are actually more able to use the newer office suites without training because they either know how to use Word (in which case it's now arranged better) or they know nothing about Word (in which case it's now more intuitive). The new versions don't really suffer feature bloat at all either, everything is in there for a reason even if you personally don't use it. It's mainly "IT professionals" having trouble with the new office suites - those for whom putting a gap in a document involves pressing enter, and emphasis involves the bold and or italic button. Those using styles properly tend to find the new suites very easy to use.

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Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

Depends on the user set. For example, I supported a migration to 2010 from 2003. There had to be several days of internal classes for most of the users, before they could "do" what they did before.

Without MS's data, I'd say, it's impossible to say who finds more intuitive.

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Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

If a company has invested millions in developing new and innovative software which contains its intellectual property then why should a customer demand the right to have access to the source code just because they don't want to upgrade? The intellectual property will flow in to the latest versions and therefore still has value and what hasn't flowed through may still have value. Until a customer pays for the full development cost of software, their rights to source code should be very limited not least because often the software is the biggest asset of the ISV.

To often companies are forced to upgrade by their own internal demands and not that of the ISV. How many companies have auditors who say that using unsupported software is a risk that cannot be accepted? In reality once software to gets to around 5 years old, most risks will have been addressed, most security holes have been plugged and the product is fairly stable, so why do you need support anyway?

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Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

> then why should a customer demand the right to have access to the source code just because they don't want to upgrade?

There is a relatively simple way for a company to avoid this, if such rules were introduced. Keep a current supported core of code. Upgrades give more features, which earlier buyers would not have access to.

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FAIL

Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

Rubbish!

The only reason companies "need" access to source code is either:

1. Because the business processes are too closely coupled to the original software;

2. You have important data stored in the software in a proprietary format.

(1) is a management incompetence problem that has nothing to do with the software and everything to do with your company's management, who have clearly failed to identify this rather obvious single point of failure. Placing so much responsibility for your business' continuation on the shoulders of a third party is never a good plan. Managers need to be asking just one question to avoid such situations: "What happens if [$ENTITY] is wiped out overnight by, say, flooding, fire, or being hit by a bus?" If the answer to that question is "Oh sh!t, we're f*cked!", you need to do something about it. Now.

(2) Is an Open Standards problem. Store your data in a standard format for which adequate documentation exists.

Note that in neither case is the correct answer: "we need access to the source code!" If I'm relying upon the services of ISVs, why in blazes would I keep expert programmers on my payroll? If I get source code access, what am I supposed to do with it? Print it out and use it to decorate my offices? Give it to another ISV and just go through the same dangerous cycle again? If the software were that important to my business' core operations, my business deserves to go under.

Businesses are a form of machine and require good design and engineering just as much as any software does. Any component of your business that is fundamental and crucial to its continued operations requires one of two approaches:

1. Do it in-house.

2. ONLY if there is a healthy market with multiple suitable ISVs, so that you always have the option to just switch to another ISV, should you opt for a third-party solution. Even so, a key element in the contract should be that said ISV supports open data format standards, so there is no vendor lock-in.

It's not that hard.

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Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

I think you've hit the nail on the head there Mr. Baggaley with your point (2). As long as you can extract/convert your data when the time comes; almost everything else is secondary; including supported software (the support I'm talking about is ongoing efforts by the software manufacturer to keep the software current and close security holes as they are discovered etc; not customer training which is a whole different issue).

Your point (1) is also pretty good.

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Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

My last job involved support for a bank. Their main banking system ran on an iSeries, and as part of their original software licence agreement, they purchased a copy of the source code, which gave them the ability to make changes outside of the company who produced the product.

While a very large expense some 20 years ago, it turned out to be amazingly valuable last year when the latest owner of the brand IP declared they no longer wanted to support that product, and anyone still on it would be forced to upgrade to the New Shiny product instead, at a minimum cost of several million quid. We were able to turn to our third party developer and say 'are you happy to keep looking after this nice stable reliable system for a fee' and he said 'certainly, cause not being a multinational, it makes for a good living for me'. Win win all round.

Compulsory upgrades are relatively cheap at the desktop level, but when you talk about core business software you *really* want a good support contract.

Enterprise level software on the other hand is a different story entirely ...

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Thumb Up

Re: What about the cost of upgrading ?

Good job on your company for thinking long.

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Paraphrasing ...

"If you don't pay to update your software every 9 to 16 months, our corporate providers might not provide us a paycheck."

Ta, Gartner. At least we know where you stand on the subject.

Me, I'll stick with FOSS. For the most part[1], it just works.

[1] I use ecomstation for several contracts. It also just works.

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Stop

Only one question. What is it going to cost to 'support' my Windows XP machines beyond 2014? Will it be cheaper / safer to use Android and Linux on my internet-facing boxes, and XP only on my video development machines?

You get the picture. Why talk in the abstract? One company is responsible for outlandish behavior in extended support. Name them and shame them -- for an outdated and wasteful business model...

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Will it be cheaper / safer to use Android and Linux

Depends on your support.

We pay a lot of money to MS, but we get dammed good support (we've had people in the states fly over the same day).

At the same time, we've also paid Red Hat for "support".

Just because the product is free, doesn't mean the support is.

Yes Linux has community suport, but at the edn of the day, how much support is around for a 12 year old desktop verion of Linux?

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Linux

Re: Will it be cheaper / safer to use Android and Linux

A 12 yr old version of the Linux desktop will be using KDE 1.something (I was there... yes, it was an act of faith) you wouldn't want to be running it today.

However, I've chuntered along the upgrade path gaining _reusable_ experience in everything along the way moving from kernel 2.2 to kernel 3.1 and from KDE 1.something to KDE 4.8.1 (yes 4.0 was a well documented speed bump)

I've got it running on 2003 yr old homebrew hardware as a standard desktop, an MSI WIND and AAO both as netbook interface

And of course I've moved from Star Office -> Open Office -> Libre Office with all that experience reusable

All as a user and as technical support for those that made the mistake of asking me which computer to buy.

PS I think you mean "damn" if you meant "damned" what curse did you apply and why and if you did mean dammed - check the log file...

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One company? Really?

I guess you've never had to pay extended support fees for Oracle, IBM, SAP, Red Hat, etc, etc, etc.

The only picture I get is that you like to bash one company.

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Anonymous Coward

@Lost all faith... - You'll still get better support than you will get

for a 12 yr old version of Windows from Microsoft.

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Vic
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Re: Will it be cheaper / safer to use Android and Linux

> how much support is around for a 12 year old desktop verion of Linux?

As much as you want.

This is the thing with Free Software - support can come form anywhere, not just the original authors.

If you *really* want a piece of code supported, it can be. You just need to pay someone enough to do it. Most people take a quick trip down that road andf decide that the advice they were given - to upgrade to something similar - makes a lot of sense.

Ocasionally it doesn't - such as is the case with Gnome at present - so the old code needs to be dusted down and maintained.

Vic.

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Syd

“… extended support fees are a cynical ploy by the ISVs to extract more cash from their customers.”

Garner, in contrast, are a charity who give all their stuff away for free.

C'mon - let's get real here - everyone knows that this is basically a "hire purchase" model by any other name, and everyone is happy with that - if they weren't, then they wouldn't buy! Or they'd buy, but be prepared to may MUCH more up-front... which (speaking as a director of one-such ISV) they won't, because they don't have the cash up front.

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Coat

Nice pipe dream

It'll never happen. Being an analyst with any sort of knowledge I thought he would have realised that Software companies are being run by the mafia. If you think I'm joking I direct you to any "consultant" from IBM mid range services or anyone from SAP.

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immoral and indefensible?

"2. Provision of low level forensic configuration change auditing capabilities to help enforce tightened change management processes."

I don't know about extended support but uttering phrases like that is definitely immoral and indefensible.

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Merely flags up how pointless it is

These five suggestions are all things that a customer could live without for ages and then purchase only the bits they needed. If the product is really important to you, you'll probably build up enough in-house knowledge to work out most of the answers yourself. Lastly, it presumes that the product is sufficiently obscure that customers won't be able to find each other on the internet and exchange knowledge.

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Coat

The "joys" of being edited...

Hi there

Yes it's me. The analyst that wrote the original blog post upon which the article was based.

It’s interesting to see how the article has been received by end-users (and some members of the trade if one is to believe their claims) and their comments. Most have obviously not read the entire blog post (as many of the valid observations made were already covered and discussed within it). A self selecting sample have naturally taken the opportunity to lambast the industry (as will always be the case I guess). A couple have taken their chance to take a sideways snipe at the good ship Gartner for not being a charity (This is of course their right but it does show a certain lack of understanding of the Gartner business model). But IMHO there are some pearls of wisdom in the chain if you can bear to sift through the vitriol.

It is a shame that the article failed to note that I also suggested abandoning uplift fees or introducing discounts in conjunction with improving the scope and value of extended support offering. I guess that would be slightly less newsworthy… “Gartner suggests ISVs lower prices and increase value! Shock Horror!” Hardly something to grab reader interest I guess.

Anyone who does want to read beyond the sound bites should of course look at the original posting...

http://blogs.gartner.com/rob-addy/2012/03/18/are-extended-support-fees-immoral-and-indefensible/

Happy days :-)

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