Software and Choice

This post is going to discuss whether users really have a choice on which piece of software they’re using. The initial stimulus was this post about users not reading licence agreements: http://www.measuringusability.com/blog/eula.php

In the beginning, I thought I’d post a comment there. But it would be too big, and slightly off topic. In short, I’m one of the people who always read licence agreements. Always. And I’d urge everyone to do so. To be fair, I pay more attention to the privacy part than to anything else. I have rejected this or that software because of something I read in their licence agreements; examples include Facebook and veoh (I use Twitter and Vimeo instead). I won’t go into details here, because it has to do with my needs and not software being bad or evil per se. My point here is that the user does have choice.

The examples above are web apps, but also desktop software providers almost always provide trial versions. These versions have the same licence agreement with the final product. That is, one has the opportunity to read the licence agreement of a piece of software in the trial version, before buying the full version of the software. Moreover, some licence agreements of desktop software are online, so you won’t even need to download the trial version.

In general, I’m in favour of giving the choice first thing; then your users will be happy.

However, other events also got my attention, like tech in Tunisia and Egypt: http://twitter.com/#!/ekapros/status/30273057469763584

http://twitter.com/#!/tarekshalaby/status/30084055890395136

What happened there is that the people chose to use various technologies–particularly open ones–to disseminate information about what was happening in their countries during protests against their rulers. The rulers tried to filter or cut access to the Internet, the users, though, found a plethora of ways to communicate with the outside world.

Of course, that couldn’t happen with any technology or software: it had to be open enough to allow the dissemination of information. However, since web software is built to allow communication–in contrast with a lot of desktop software–it was the people’s choice to find ways to access this software.

Extreme occasions need extreme measures, and what happened in Tunisia and Egypt (is Iran next?) was an extreme use of tech due to the filtering. Other parts of the world might never have to take such measures, but these show that there is more choice in using software than we usually think there is.

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