July 31, 2017

When you buy something for your business – say, an automobile or copy machine – you usually get a warranty guaranteeing that the product’s going to work as expected.

But when it comes to software, it’s often up to you to ensure that the product works properly and is reliable.

Typically, software packages come with a standard 30-day (365 days, in some cases) warranty. Once the warranty runs out, you can get software support – at a price.

Generally a software warranty will say the product will perform substantially according to what is says in any accompanying materials about it for a certain number of days from the date on the purchase receipt. If there are bugs in the software, you can get updates and hot fixes, but generally the software is sold as is, with little warranty.

Moreover, if the bugs bring your business to its knees, you can’t hold the maker or the supplier liable for financial damages because they won’t “be liable for any damages whatsoever including direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, loss of business profits or special damages, even if [they knew] of the possibility of such damages.”

What about big-money custom software? You still don’t get much of a standard warranty. Cisco Systems, for example, states that “in no event” does the company guarantee that its software is “error free or that customers will be able to operate the software without problems or interruptions.”

So the next time you buy software, whether it’s shrink-wrapped off the shelf or custom designed, think carefully about how you’re going to use it and what sort of protection is necessary.

Here’s a guide to help you become a more informed software buyer:

  • Read documents carefully. Once you inspect any goods and accept them, you may lose the protection of an implied warranty.
  • Modifications to software generally void the warranty and you become ineligible for software support. If you have the software modified professionally, however, that person or organization may be willing to provide support.
  • Warranties and performance guarantees may be invalidated if the software is used with a product that the vendor doesn’t approve or provide.
  • The limitations of warranties commonly found in shrink-wrap licenses may be unenforceable, most often because the limitation isn’t available at purchase – it’s sealed inside the package with the license. Vendors should inform you of limitations before you buy. Some jurisdictions view warranty limitations as contrary to public policy.
  • You should have the right to purchase support for the length of a software license and to cancel support according to an agreed-upon notice. The licensor should not be allowed to cancel support without ending the license.
  • If you don’t plan to install all upgrades or new versions of the program, be sure to specify in your license agreement that this choice won’t jeopardize your warranty or support arrangements.
  • As the amount of money you spend on software increases, so does your ability to negotiate. Try to arrange coding-defect protection, either in your warranty or for a support fee, and for acceptance testing, which means you don’t pay until you’re sure the software works properly.
  • In general, you probably don’t want money-back guarantees. You want the problems fixed. The cost of the software pales in comparison to the cost of staff members, consultants, hardware and training you often need for custom installations.

© 2017