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Television Media

When Forced "Upgrades" Bring You Down 220

Viadd sent us an interesting article about unwanted upgrades. Its a little ranty, but it basically surrounds ReplayTV "Upgrading" their units by changing a feature in a way that Tog thinks is worse (and I'd tend to agree). With more software becoming subscription based, the line between bug fix, feature enhancement, and removal of features is going to get more blurry. I don't think that this particular example is the best, but this is really important to think about. Should we pay to remove bugs? What about when "Features" are trojaned along with the bugfix that we don't want? And what about when every device in your house is computerized? How does that amplify the problem? And what about when its a device like your tivo which upgrades automatically, leaving you no way out?
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When Forced "Upgrades" Bring You Down

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  • ... Uh.. OK Shyster.. Nice try..
  • It was the one of the top links for it in Google.

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:34AM (#318412) Homepage Journal
    Just use ASFRecorder. Hell, you can compile it under Linux, even!

    It's pretty much been eradicated from the Internet out of fear that it might be illegal, but I found a copy of it here [].

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • by Alan ( 347 ) <arcterex.ufies@org> on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @03:31PM (#318413) Homepage
    I have some personal experience with this, from the other side. I work at a software development house, and about a year ago we release a firewall product, which was well recieved and well liked by our customers. In efforts to get our new product to market, which required a bit of a shift from our current way of doing things, from disks to disk-on-a-chips, we had a decision to make.

    We could either hack the DOC support into our current (single firewall) product, or rewrite the entire thing from scratch, and Do It Right(tm). We decided on the latter, and after 3 months of the dev and QA team working till midnight (or later in some cases) we have a product that is 99% done. We're back to normal hours anyway, and have one version out the door. A second one is currently undergoing final QA.

    But back on track.

    Before all you needed was a registration key. This was created by a serial number that you got when you purchased the product combinged with your MAC address, creating a unique key. Without this you got a demo mode, but still could update to the latest and greatest software.

    Well, sales had their way and decided that hey, we can make this a revenue stream, and decided to make people pay for upgrades. This involved creating a new key which was basically a support receipt. Show the receipt at the door and you get upgrades... don't want to pay? Get only the last released version, no upgrades, no security fixes, no nothing. I personally don't like it, but I'm not at the top of the food chain here, so I can't complain too much.

    But you'll notice a few things here:

    • Nothing was taken away from current users. They get free upgrades to the software for a year IF THEY WANT. If they don't want to change anything, they dont' have to.
    • The nature of the software is not such that it's required to be updated all the time. If you want to use it once, get your firewall configured, and leave it forever, that's fine.
    • The new software has all the functionality of the original, and more.

    Oh well, a little bit OT I'm sure, but it's interesting to see this from the other side. I wonder if this feature was originally put in because someone in the upper echelon said "hey, we can make more money from this thing!"
  • That's fine for the 19th century where 'service' meant going out and getting your shoes shined or something, but what about the 21st, 'everything is a service' century? You used to be able to _buy_ hardware (toasters, hammers, cars) that was just hardware, and there were organisations like UL that saw to it that you wouldn't get sold a toaster that would electrocute you if you spilled coffee under it. Increasingly everything is a service. Communication is a service. Interacting with other people becomes a service. Hell, soon your car will be a service- you'll be buying a license to run its software (that will say AS IS on it). What then? What, after all non-service, non-computer-internet-based industries have dwindled to the point that, in order to live a normal life, you have to choose which grocery service and which bill-paying service and which credit-card service you want?
  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @02:39PM (#318415) Homepage Journal
    No no- a better example would be,

    "Surprise! Outlook Express has automatically upgraded you to a full Passport membership!"


  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @02:42PM (#318416) Homepage Journal
    Better yet- the next version of MS Word still has a spell checker, but saves disk space for you by keeping work file caches on a special Passport server...
  • It's like how if you accept the upgrade to the mp3 codec suggested by media player, it will downgrade your professional version of the Freunhoffer codec to the standard version. Not that I have an illegal copy of the codec...
  • by LoCoPuff ( 1019 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:53AM (#318418)
    guess what? The CD player I bought in 1985 won't play A lot of CD's that are released nowadays. For example, Wierd Al's latest, since it is 'mixed mode'. Is that not an unwanted upgrade? A CD is a CD right? Think before you open your trap.
  • by LoCoPuff ( 1019 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:22AM (#318419)
    This has been happening for years outside of the computer industry. I have a Stereo system built in 1974 that sounds better than just about anything on the market today. And it is still pumping bass. Anything you buy now is designed to die in a matter of months. This began in the mid-80's with the yuppies having more disposable income, manufacturers realized they could make stuff disposable. That is the same idea here. Everything will be disposable eventually, including computers.
  • > How else do they pay for the program guide?

    uhm, the subscription fees? They haven't included lifetime fees in the base price yet, have they?


  • > You know, last year, was the first time I really ran into a newer
    > versions removing features that the previous version had.

    Word 6.0. Fatal removal.

    Word 1.0-5.1 had typesetting commands. The typestting command let you type things such as .\f(3,5) to get a 3/5 fraction (the .\ is a single funny character). You could enter math directly from the keyboard. SOmetime around 5.x, the equation editor showed up. In 6.0 (and in all windows versions) the typesetting commands are gone--but it's worse than that. If you *open* a file that has them, it converts them to equation editor and saves in the new format without asking permission--you have to use your file as read-only to protect it (and that may be at the os level and not "open read only", i forget.)

    Word 1.0-5.x had a usable "insert symbol" command. You mapped it to a useful key (command-escape), and the next character you typed would be from the symbol font, and then return to whateveryou were doing. THose of us that use a lot of greek variables find this useful. THere may be a way to remap it, but as it comes, you use that command and get hit with at least two pop-up windows, the first to choose a symbol font, and the second to click a character.

    These two features of word were the reasons I stayed with mac as long as they did. Once they were gone, I refused to "upgrade" at a loss of critical functionality. (And then I found lyx, and dumped mac for *nix, as it did those better than word anyway. I had to suggest the second one, but it was in the source within a week . . . and unlike the word typesetting commands, you can maneuver around your displayed equaition in lyx with the keyboard).

    additionally, word 6 screwed up mailmerge for all but the most simplistic users. it used to be entered as text, but now you have to use oint-and-click, and rather than displaying the commands, it displays the result from the first object in the feed-file--and you *must* have a feed-file associated rather than specifying it in the document. how bad is this? if you have an "if", and the test is false for that item, the if only includes text when true, it displays the blank as the result. that's *all* it displays: nothing. try to click on nothing to change it . . . how painful is it to use? i used to prepare massive numbers of bankruptcy and divorce pleadings for my law practice with a hypercard front end and word mailmerge. when forced to face word 6 mailmerge to send out a couple of hundred semi-customized applications, i discovered that it would be less work to write a mailmerge module for lyx--and it was less work. what worse can you say about someone's software than that it's so much hassle to use

    What worse can you say about someone's software than that it's less hassle to write your own than to use it???


  • DirecTV has already done this [].
  • Damn, you people have heard of Moore's Law haven't you? It is such a simple consequence of that law that people will want to frequently upgrade and, in fact, will benefit from frequent upgrades. This has nothing to do with the stylish, empty headed critique about how "they don't make things the way they used to". Please, read the article that prompted this thread which is a thorny and difficult issue. But it has almost nothing to do with some people's inability to understand the simplest consequences of Moore's Law.

    To illustrate what I am proposing I could note that people could insist on only purchasing open source products. Then if a vendor pulled a lame trick like ReplayTV has, the source code could be forked at that point. Of course, that suggestion has little resonance in the real world because people seldom have a choice to pick an open source option. Neither TiVo nor ReplayTV offer open source where it counts.
  • I shouldn't be surprised, but hardly anyone I know watches much TV these days. I thought it was going out of style. Personally, I'm just into film and haven't been very impressed by television for a long time. I'm pretty selective about the media that I patronize, and it ends up being mostly live entertainment.

    I'm also surprised to see this kind of thing shocking anyone. Yeah, it is really underhanded, but everyone saw it coming. Every person who used Tivo or ReplyTV had to think to themselves, "wow... this is great, but if everyone did this it wouldn't fly." There are some good and legitimate uses of these devices, but the commercial skipping feature was bound to cause problems. Inherently everyone who used the feature knew that it was a time bomb and wouldn't last. The bottom line is this: If you are doing something that undermines the system, and your only way of continuing to do it is the expectation that the vast majority will "play by the rules" then this is crossing the line into thievery.

  • And viewers have no obligation to look at the ads. If they can block it out so that they never even become aware that there _are_ ads, they're entitled to. And since it's already paid for, you can even keep copies of the show forever. It's a great deal.

    No one's making advertisers pay for TV either. If they can't adapt, too bad for them. It's certainly possible to have TV with no product ads - HBO's been doing it for years. They only advertise themselves....
  • DirecTV has done something similar; personally I've been expecting MS to introduce an autoupdate to Office at some point in the future that "slipped past QA testing" to force stragglers to adopt Office.Net. Naturally, updating won't be an option for the version or two immediately previous to .Net....
  • by MoNsTeR ( 4403 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @01:25PM (#318427)
    For a couple of months now, I've been playing the MMORTS game "Mankind" (read: playing far too much). It's published and maintained by a European company (French?) called Periodically, Vibes updates the client game, and when you log on these updates will automatically be downloaded and installed. Nevermind the potential for a disgruntled employee to hit every MK player with a virus...

    So here's what happened. Vibes decided, for whatever reason, that ingame e-mails should be stored on the player's computer rather than on the servers. So everyone logs on, and their clients download this update. Except, in addition to reorganizing the mail system, this update, for no explicable reason, screws up the entire building system. Most costs show up as negative numbers, disallowing you to execute those builds. Your builders say they can build ground structures in space, and space structures on the ground. In short, Total Chaos ensues as no one can get anything done, assuming they can even log on and enter their [star] systems.

    Now, the big issue here is really that Vibes obviously needs better QA. I get the feeling they didn't test this patch AT ALL before releasing it. However, if the upgrade system wasn't force-feed, the people brave enough to download an untested patch (this isn't the first crazy-ass patch Vibes released) would be able to warn off the more cautious players from getting it.

    Hypothetical examples can be instructive too. Think of what would have happened if every NS3 user had automatically been "upgraded" to NS4, or from 4 to the ultra-bloat of 6. Or if MS had forcefully pushed out the catastrophic IE5.5. Or if (heaven help us) the Linux kernel automatically "upgraded" itself...
  • Speaking of this, does anyone know how to:
    1. Make a skip-forward-15-seconds button (the only feature of ReplayTV I envy)?
    2. Make it so that when you press record mid-way through a show that you've been watching it doesn't discard what you've already watched?
  • If I may dream a little dream, what I would love to see is allowing me to pay extra (that they can give to the advertising asses) to not watch any commercials on taped shows. It'd be a simple thing to do - just a binary code embedded into the stream - 1s when it's the show, 0s when it's the commerical. I only watch 1s for an extra $10 a month...I'd pay that in a heartbeat!
  • > If you are pausing the TV, why are you paying attention to it??
    To look at that frame in detail. Is that who it looks like in the background? Is that player offside? Is that ball over that line? It that spaceship really half a hairdryer spraypainted silver (B7)? What is the subliminal message in the Psi Corps advert (B5)? Are they reusing the model from episode with an extra bit stuck on?

  • by SteveX ( 5640 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:28AM (#318431) Homepage
    In Windows Media Player 7, they took out the ability to Save the streaming video file you're watching. Watching the same stream in Media Player 6, you can save it no problem.

    According to Q273006 [], this is "by design". Thanks, guys.

  • "...the users, who must of necessity tie to the TV logs to use the device..."

    We need some sort of universal television listings data base protocol usable by any brand of "hard drive as VCR"-type device that contains the television listings and only the television listings. Any machine that has to be hooked up to a phone line and allowed to make any calls that it wants to and hold any kind of "conversation" that it wants to without you having any say in the matter or else it doesn't work, well you don't really own that machine, you've just licensed its "boat anchor" functionality. I just hope that automobiles don't turn into "transportation subscription delivery devices".

  • "...what difference does it make if they put an advertisement on the screen? "

    The difference is that the show that you're watching doesn't have a commercial in the middle of whatever scene you paused it in the middle of. In effect, they are lying to you. Not to mention putting something on your television screen without your permission that you didn't ask for.

  • Removal of the 30-second skip backdoor

    You can hardly equate this to the forced commercial watching that ReplayTV added. ReplayTV removed one of the key selling points of the unit. The feature that TiVo removed wasn't a selling point, was never mentioned in the marketing literature or owner's manual, and was not even accesible on an unmodified box. In fact, the general public was never even supposed to know it was there. It was simply some left over code for a feature that was apparently toyed, with but never meant for inclusion in the released product. So some clever folks figured out how to activate it, big deal. You still can't insinuate any evil-doing on TiVo's part for removing it.

    Capacity reduction for hacked TiVos

    Not even worth mentioning. The amount of space lost is fairly trivial. I only lost about 4 hours on mine. It's OK, I've got plenty of space to spare, I still never manage to fill the thing up anyway.

    Autocorrection jump-back changes

    Yep, you're right. The new setting for this feature sucks ass. Hard. Apparently, though, some "focus group" preferred it this way. One has to wonder if the focus group was made up of quad-amputees who were operating the remote with their noses. Even after a case of beer, my reflexes still aren't slow enough to accomodate the new settings.

  • Now instead of being able to see the whole name of a show, I can see adds for digital cable. Yay!

    Almost as good as the local electric company running big ad campaigns on TV. I'm so very pleased that my rates are higher than necessary in order to allow them to advertise to what is a captive market anyway.

  • Heh, you have to educate your reflexes to become as slow as after 2 cases of beer!

    That's a whole lot of beer. It would consume entirely too much time do down two cases every time I wanted to watch TV. Not to mention the expense involved. And the hangovers...

    Maybe weed is the answer. If I remember my partying days correctly, it always slowed my reflexes WAY more than alcohol.

  • 1.Make a skip-forward-15-seconds button (the only feature of ReplayTV I envy)?

    If you still have software version 1.3, you can enable this functionality by setting the appropriate environment variable. Details should be here [] somewhere. Try the search engine.

    Sadly, this ability seems to have been removed in software version 2.0.1. Sucks, but it's not quite as evil as what this article talks about, since it was never an official feature anyway, just some leftover code that wasn't really supposed to be there.

    2.Make it so that when you press record mid-way through a show that you've been watching it doesn't discard what you've already watched?

    The guy above me is correct. Software version 2.0.1 adds this ability, with one caveat: If you want to include the buffer in your recording, you have to also record the rest of the show in Best quality. Apparently, switching qualities in mid-recording proved too troublesome to deal with.
  • > I have to admit that hearing of ReplayTV disabling features is pretty sorry, and definitely makes for just cause to
    > complain about the "autoupdate" features that have begun to appear in just about everything these days.

    Thoughts like these went thru my head today at work.

    I had to test some software on the Win2K platform, so I pulled an image from the network & pasted it on the box. Discovered this morning that the image didn't include Service pack 1, so I followed our network Admin's advice & connected the box to to get the patch.

    I thought that what would happen was that I'd download the file & run the install from a local directory; what I saw happen was a netowrk upgrade. I have no idea what I downloaded & installed today, & can only trust Microsoft wasn't looking for another way to pry into what I had on that computer.

    Aw well, it's only a test bed, & sometime in the next couple of months we'll fdisk & reinstall the software on it.

  • > The service pack, as well as all of the other addons that are traditionally installed via
    > network-download (aka Active Setup) are able to be downloaded and saved from the MS Windows 2000 page (it states
    > it as network administrator download, just because they figure they'd be the only ones using it), which easily allows for
    > download and then offline installation.

    You're probably right, there's nothing evil going on, but I did all of this in dumb user mode (``I didn't do anything! I just booted up my computer, clicked on some stuff, & started typing away. So why doesn't it work, expert?") But I'm the sort of guy who always selects the custom install -- when asked -- just to see what gets installed. And I wasn't asked.

    MS is obviously not coding software for the endusers. It's looking to other corporations, & what they are willing to pay for. And that should be a warning to everyone who uses their software.

  • Gosh! How *dare* they change a system that they provide to you for no cost, so that they can maybe make some money off of it so they can ay for the bandwidth you are using?! Bastards!

    Seriously, this is different than ReplayTV or TiVo, where you have already paid them for the service they are rendering. You've basically entered a contract with them by exchanging money for goods. How much have you paid for ICQ? Nada. Are they contractually obliged to you to provide that service? Nope. For them to change how their software works when it connects to their free service isn't unfair. It's just business.

    Really, your only alternatives are to live with it, or to seek free alternatives, such as Jabber. But remember that even if the software is free, someone has to pay for the servers to manage the messaging network. TANSTAAFL.
  • Your analogy isn't even REMOTELY close. You are the sysadmin for those machines, at a company you work for! With ReplayTV, you are their customer, paying your valuable dollars for a product YOU NOW OWN that they are coming in and changing without your permission. I just don't see the comparison.
  • by dschuetz ( 10924 ) <> on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @11:06AM (#318447)
    First of all, when you are pausing the show you are watching, what difference does it make if they put an advertisement on the screen?

    When you're pausing it so you can read something on the screen, or determine whether the receiver's foot was down before he left the end zone, or a myriad of other possibilities.

    If "Freeze-Frame" was one of the included features of Replay, and they chose, without user validation, to remove that feature, then they're taking away something they've already paid for. Nevermind that they've since changed it back--the original behavior of the unit was altered without the customer's approval to be no longer in compliance with advertised specifications.

    We've all seen the warning "Specifications subject to change without notice," except, in the past, once you've actually purchased something, the specifications stopped changing.

    even when this feature was still active ... you could bypass the ads simply by pressing one more key after you hit Pause

    If this restored the live-action TV, then you're still not regaining the lost freeze-frame feature. If this turns off the ad and returns you to the current program, frozen on the screen, then it's a little more acceptable. But still, it's something that you didn't ask for, and that wasn't part of the deal when you bought the unit.

    What if Netscape or Microsoft downloaded updates to their browsers that forced you (and hackers couldn't figure out how to prevent the forcing) to view an ad before each page you viewed? Sure, you can get past the ad simply by clicking somewhere, but it's still a feature you didn't ask for. And, technically, legally, there's no reason the next patch you download can't do exactly that. Then where will we be?

  • FINALLY. someone with some sense.

    Disclaimer: I'm an avid TiVo user. Thus, my bias is to presume that ReplayTV users are chumps / suckers / whatever. Don't take it personal.

    It sounds to me like ReplayTV users have a business relationship with a company, and that this company is abusing the relationship. When that happens, unless it's someone you just can't shake like the power company, it's up to you to remedy the situation.

    It sounds like, from some other posters, that they removed this "feature" some time ago. Personally i never heard of it, but I don't know anyone who uses a ReplayTV box. So, it would seem, that the situation has been resolved.

    On a larger scale, the set-top appliances now coming onto the market are setting the precedent for subscription-based software to come, and so far it seems to be going well.

    Sure, there will be evil out there, but the sky isn't falling.

  • Enough ReplayTV Customers (myself included) complained about this new "feature" that they removed it in a subsequent version of the OS. The system still works, congratulations.
  • In fact, the Freeze-Frame function is gone. It has been replaced by a "Serve Me A Commercial" function. Press the same button you've always pressed for Freeze Frame and now you get to look at a Coca-Cola commercial or some such for 25 minutes.

    How did this happen? Replay TV downloaded the change one night, along with the TV log updates. No notice was given, and no choice was offered. They just stripped away basic functionality and replaced it with something that brought them more revenue.

    Hmm.. I wonder what Replay TV's Terms of Service has to say about something like this? From an ethical standpoint, I think it's pretty underhanded to do something like that, but I wonder if Replay TV might have put themselves at legal liability?

    At the very least, I think this is going to enrage a lot of people who use "traditional" appliances (TVs, VCRs, washing machines, etc.) and don't expect the functionality to suddenly change on them with no notice, and more importantly, to have a freature which they presumably paid for be replaced by something useless to them!

    It would be like pressing the "mute" button on your TV's remote control and having the channel changed to QVC [] or something.


  • Everything will be disposable eventually, including computers.
    You say that as if they aren't already. :-)

    When's the last time you've been able to use a computer with off-the-shelf games and Windows applications, as well as Windows itself, for more than a year or two before the newer stuff requires more powerful hardware?


  • I have to admit that hearing of ReplayTV disabling features is pretty sorry, and definitely makes for just cause to complain about the "autoupdate" features that have begun to appear in just about everything these days.

    But a better example would be of one of the oldest and best Intant Messengers, ICQ. I've been using ICQ since 1996 now, and although people constantly have complained about the "feature bloat" that seems to find its way into each new revision, I've stuck through it, because that "bloat" has been merely surface deep in my opinion with the option of being disabled once I found my way deeper into the preferences.

    But I returned from Spring Break three weeks ago to find that ICQ's new "autoupdate" feature (which it doesn't give you the option to enable or disable) had added advertisements to all of my ICQ windows. (This is with ICQ 2000a/b for Win32) I was dare they change the way my program works without even consulting me? They could also be sending my personal information up to ICQ for their advertising purposes....the bastards! --Somehow I can't help but think that it's all AOL's fault for buying ICQ in the first place.

    Thankfully, a few hacks and tweaks later, I was able to kill the damned advertisements (you can read how to do it from my site here [], although various programs and utilities for doing the same duties have recently popped up). But although the autoupdate feature is now disabled, I am very disconcerted by the possibility that this will begin to happen in other software.

    Will Netscape/Mozilla soon be autoupdating itself with advertisements and Spam to appear in the titlebar? We all know what RealPlayer already what happens if they decide to autoupdate us all to no more media player (the media player only makes up 10% of a RealPLayer window anyway) and just make the whole thing one large advertisement?

    We need to band together to send these companies a message that this kind of treatment will not be tolerated. We should not and will not sit by and allow companies to take control of our software from us. How should we go about doing this? Any ideas?

    Let's band together...and prevent further atrocities like ICQ and ReplayTV from continuing.

    -Julius X
  • WMP7 and MP6 both store their info as basic Windows codecs. WMP comes with a better selection than MP6 did though.

    However...WMP will not phone home without your consent if you dont' want it to. Just change the options in the WMP Options menu for autoupdates and codec downloads. Very easy.

    However, I like your idea about RealPlayer. I'd go all the way back to 4.0 if I could, before they adopted the nonstandard interface that always seems to slow things down. For me, I just always disabled their *barf* SmartCenter "feature" and run it in small mode so I don't have to deal with the crap.

    -Julius X
  • Geoff,

    Suprisingly as it might seem, Microsoft isn't on the evil side of this autoupdate feature--yet. (What WinXP has in store for us may change that). The service pack, as well as all of the other addons that are traditionally installed via network-download (aka Active Setup) are able to be downloaded and saved from the MS Windows 2000 page (it states it as network administrator download, just because they figure they'd be the only ones using it), which easily allows for download and then offline installation.

    -Julius X
  • I don't think that was the main trust of the argument though. The issue is that in the future as software becomes more and more subscription based you're going to see ads pop up on your favorite (non-open-source) desktop. And as more entertainment comes online and movies become streaming rather than rental, and with the convergence of more computing power in the home entertainment system Microsoft will begin to see that it (and AOL/Time-Warner among others) is the new form of TV.

    You don't think they'll pad the bottom line by charging for ads? Ads targeted specifically at you since they now know what software you run, when you run it, how late you stay up, how much pr0n you download (if applicable), where you trade, how much you use eBay, and so on. It's all open-season. That coupled with the poor saps that will be forced to use Passport with Windows XP, you've got some ripe privacy violations just waiting to happen (not to mention terrific targeted marketing to sell).
  • Ultimately though, this means more work for the company anyway.


    Well imagine their servers. They have to keep backwards compatibility with your older box, or else they lose you as a customer. Or you're forced to upgrade. I think lots of people have been talking and thinking about this as only a client-side issue, but it's server side as well.

    Simply put, you cannot expect a company to allow you to configure every aspect of their product and support it at the same time. It sucks, yes. But as long as there's a server at the other end that your client has to interact with, that's how it is. No one's forcing you to upgrade your Windows or Linux installation to continue using it. Even Windows 3.1 can still be used, as long as you only use the software available for it.

    Fact of the matter is, if you're using their service, you gotta play by their rules.

    What gets me are programs that have no server with which to communicate (in order to function, that is) but automatically check for an update and download/install it for you. This is not only an annoyance, but a security risk as well.

  • Well, in regards to the autocorrection, I feel fairly confident that they'll add some way to adjust it in the next version. Simply because the variables are there now, making a menu of some sort to tweak them shouldn't be difficult. Regardless, the autocorrection was about the most hotly debated topic when 2.0 was in beta. Personally, I hate the extended length. But I tweaked it, so no biggie.

    However, I have to take issue with the "there's no positives". View Upcoming Episodes is the most useful feature I can imagine to have added to the Tivo. The Season Pass Manager is a close second. 1.3 was almost unusable without the View Upcoming Episodes functionality. Wishlists are nice, and excellent for catching things that suggestions don't. Essentially, the combination of these things let you stop relying on suggestions to catch "occasional" shows that you want to watch.. That's the big benefit.
  • As with any other question of this type, if you don't want to fall victim to a service like this, don't use it! If you allow yourself to become dependent on something like TiVo (or ReplayTV), which I'm sure told you in advance that they'd "upgrade" the software whenever they choose, then you really can't complain when they excercise that option.

    It's sort of a different case if they change the service so that it's completely different from what it was when you bought it. But like I said, they reserved that right in the EULA, so even though it really sucks balls, you accepted that risk.

    This is one reason I think software as a subscription is a horrible idea. If the next incarnation of MS Word (Word.NET I assume) decides that I don't really need a spell checker, I'm SOL. But like the title says, speak with your wallet. If/when I get a computer that comes with any subscription-based software the first thing I'll do is format, install my warezed win2k and warezed o2k (hypothetically speaking of course). The only thing companies care about is money. If they find a feature in an app is causing them to lose money, they'll remove it. If adding a super-annoying "feature" (e.g. ads) will get them more money, they'll add it in a second. Why anybody would expect them to do anything else is beyond me.

    __________________________________________________ ___

  • I have a simple cheapo webcam from Logitech, and when I downloaded a "patch" from them to fix some minor bugs and add some functions to the basic software that came with it, I noticed something very wrong.

    The original software had a webcam-update feature that defaulted to using a partner website (forget the name now), but it allowed you to send the JPEGs and HTML anywhere you wanted, via FTP. SO, I had a nice little webpage on my site with a randomly-updated image of me looking stupid staring at my monitor.

    The "upgraded" software will ONLY connect to the Logitech partner site, and they have thus far (4 months) ignored my emails requesting an explanation or a fix. So, I am forced to look for shareware or freeware programs to do something that is explicitly ADVERTISED will work on a piece of $40 hardware. Naturally, I can't just go back to the original software, since it is incompatible with WinME, which is on my new machine and which prompted the update in the first place. Grrr...
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:24AM (#318465)
    I can't wait until we hear about the first "upgrade virus", an infection that gets on a shoveware server and then tells all the suckers they need to download an "upgrade" with the hostile payload in it.

    Think of the thrill of destroying millions of computers in a matter of hours.

    OK, pedantics will note that what I'm describing isn't stricly a virus or a worm, so call it what you will.

  • Heh...

    "Microsoft Windows Update has detected unsupported operating system partitions on your hard disk. As unsupported operating systems are known to be "lousy" and "anti-american" and "destroy intellectual property", it will be upgraded to NTFS, giving you 34 GB of free hard disk space! Please wait....".

    Upgrade complete! Click OK to reboot your computer...

    Torrey Hoffman (Azog)
  • You're rather generous by comparing AT&T's cable box to a 486. A 486 could draw 2D images rather quickly compared to these boxes (You could run DOOM on a 486 after all.) To me, it performs more like a Z80 when it's drawing the guide. This is absolutely ridiculous when technology to do better has been available for more than a decade. On top of that, the "upgrade" to the cable boxes made things worse by filling the screen full of unnecessary eye candy, making poor performance absolutely abysmal. I'm guessing the only reason it displays video images acceptably is because of a specialized MPEG decoder chip.

    Also, the guide only holds about 2 days of programming in it, and only half the shows in the guide have blurbs for them. It used to hold a week of programming, and had info on many more shows. Now where do you think AT&T found the memory space to store those ad images, after filling the box's firmware full of code to display useless eye candy?

  • A certain cable company I was using (by lack of other choice)

    Oh, do you mean AT&T Digital Cable?

    There's no need to withhold names to protect the guilty.

  • by Merk ( 25521 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @10:10AM (#318474) Homepage

    If you haven't already got the 2.0 software you have two choices. Give up on getting the TiVo service, no updates, no guide data, etc. and keep the features you like in v1.3, or accept the change.

    I have no hard choice to make. I just recently got a TiVo, and made sure that it had the 1.3 software, because I live where there is no service. So far it's by far the best VCR I've ever owned. Buffering live TV is amazing, having about 16 shows queued up for recording is wonderful. Not having to search for a blank tape, or the blank part of a tape is sooo convenient. Having the service would be nice, but I can live without it.

    Besides, the system runs Linux. Sure it's stripped down, running on a PPC chip with some strange libraries but it's Linux -- BASH shell and all. I've been poking around with it for about a week and I think within a month or so I should be able to give it my own guide data from sources I can find on the web. And you know what? It's *fun* to hack.

    I agree that it kinda sucks that the upgrade is not optional and breaks some things that people counted on. But you do have a choice -- until you get 2.0 you don't *need* the service for the thing to work.

  • Yes. PayMyBills has "upgraded" me *two times* now since they were taken over by PayTrust. The first "upgrade" was to take away the system where they wrote their own checks on my behalf (instead of simply printing checks with my name and account number). Now when a check gets to its destination, it may bounce. And it doesn't shield my account number like their semi-money order did.

    The next upgrade was to charge me for my account that had one year of free service left. Oh, and also to "upgrade" me to a plan that charges on a per "transaction" basis (which the "transaction" was upgraded to mean a bill received or a payment sent).

    I just LOVE these upgrades.
  • I am a Replay Tv [] owner and also have a relative who works as an engineer at Replay. Replay added the described "feature" in an attempt to raise much-needed money. People complained so they removed it.

    As a software developer, I definitely see the advantages to automatic upgrades, especially when the hardware is a closed system. Without automatic upgrades, technical support can become a nightmare, since everyone could have different revs of the firmware, and new versions should fix old problems. Theoretically, the product will improve with age. Automatic upgrades of non-closed systems (i.e. a PC) are not a good thing, since there is a good chance that the upgrade will break user-installed software and/or hardware.

    Now both Replay and Tivo are hungry for money. Both companies are losing money. Accordign to Freeedgar [], Tivo lost over 200 million dollars, last quarter losing 89 million dollars. Replay has also lost a lot of money, but never went IPO. Replay is currently being acquired by Sonic Blue [], formerly Diamond Multimedia and S3.
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:55AM (#318486) Journal
    I think his point wasn't directly related to the article but just an interesting sidenote.

    His opinion:Stereos today are not built to last more than a few months. So you have to go and upgrade ever few months. Replay is sort of like this, upgrade to something else.

  • >Solution: Install WMP 7 to get the updated codecs. [and then go back to using mplayer2.exe, the WMP 6.x player]

    Dude, you rock!

    (And props to Julius X for his comment encluing me about the WMP options menu to turn off the auto-phone-home feature, *doh*, I've gotten so accustomed to MS wanting to do this stuff "for me" that I never considered they'd put an option in to turn it off - so I never looked! ;-)

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:47AM (#318492)
    RealPlayer is arguably the worst offender - every time they add a new DLL on their Windoze platform, and you attempt to play something encoded with the "new" version, they force you to re-download the entire player.

    No, I don't want the new player with a million flashing banners in it. I just want to play the damn video stream, and all I need is the missing .DLL file associated with the new codec, damnit!

    My solution: Check what's in C:\Wherever\Common Files\Real, copy it out, perform the "upgrade" on an expendable Windoze install, and see what DLLs got upgraded.

    Then just copy the new DLLs into the old directory. Odds are you'll be able to play the .RM file just fine.

    I've managed to keep using RealPlayer version 6 up to the present day using this technique.

    Does anyone have a similar hack for things like the Sorenson .MOV codec under 'doze media player? I'm damned if I'm ever upgrading that monstrosity past version 6. It's bad enough that Real tries to re-download itself when it finds an unknown codec, but WMP phones home without my consent to do it "automatically".

    Fuck that. Anyone know where WMP stores its files, and what's required for the various codecs?

  • this real-play thing is their software and hardware is it not?

    No. Your cable box is usually the property of your cable provider and you rent it from them, but your ReplayTV box is yours, you bought it, you own it forever. When you bought it, you were purchasing a piece of hardware which had a freeze-frame button, they removed this functionality.
  • by NetJunkie ( 56134 ) <> on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:25AM (#318494)
    TiVo runs Linux and has been hacked pretty well. So if they remove something and you want it back, add it yourself.

    But.... I think it's easy to see why ReplayTV did this. They are failing. TiVo is beating them in the market, for good reason. ReplayTV isn't selling boxes any more, they are trying to "license their technology!". Which, if you know anything about this business, means they are gone.
  • by bnenning ( 58349 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @12:35PM (#318495)
    The bottom line is this: If you are doing something that undermines the system, and your only way of continuing to do it is the expectation that the vast majority will "play by the rules" then this is crossing the line into thievery.

    I disagree. We are under no obligation to conform to the business plan of corporations. I don't have a Tivo or Replay, but I hardly ever watch commercials; either I've taped the show and fast-forward through them, or I just flip to another channel. Is that thievery? Here's another one: unlike most people, I pay my credit card balance in full every month, thus depriving Mastercard of interest they expected me to pay. If everyone did that, Mastercard would be in serious trouble. Does that mean it's wrong for me to avoid 18% interest rates? I don't think so.

  • Make it so that when you press record mid-way through a show that you've been watching it doesn't discard what you've already watched?

    This is allowed in the 2.0 Tivo software which, if you don't already have it, will update itself over your phone line sometime in the next few weeks.
  • If you are pausing the TV, why are you paying attention to it??
    I find advertisements annoying. Most of them are flashy, extra loud, and in short penetrating. The advertiser wants your attention by all means he can get. When i'm pausing the TV it's most likely i want to focus on something else, maybe taking a phonecall. Then i really don't want advertises blaring in the background.
  • by gotan ( 60103 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @04:38AM (#318498) Homepage
    What bothers me even more is the possibility of redefining the contract under which you are allowed to use the thing. With the new update comes one of these click-away contracts which may as well redefine the terms of use. Maybe a DVD-player suddenly asks you to buy a special version if you want to run public shows. I really don't want to think of something really nasty here in fear of seeing it in reality tomorrow.
  • Really, you do want to upgrade. When I first got my Tivo, I loved it. But after a while, you notice that some things are pretty awkward, some obvious features are missing and some things are just wrong.

    2.01 fixes 60% of my pet peeves, and introduces some new features I didn't even know I needed :)

    I heard people complain about the autocorrection change, but I haven't even noticed it.
  • Hear hear !

    Yeah, I noticed that too.

    Media Player 6 also has the hotkey "SPACEBAR" to play/pause the video/audio clip. They took it out on ver 7. That, along with the new UI design hogging up more screen real estate, was the reason I went back to 6.

    Apple's Quicktime doesn't let me save the .mov either. I happen to LIKE saving movie trailors and backing them up to my "Movies CD".

    You know, last year, was the first time I really ran into a newer versions removing features that the previous version had. There is a silver lining though: If this continues, more people will switch over to Open Source software, since it's doubtfull "they" will remove features that users are using. (The general trend of bloatware is a whole another story. :)

  • Although the question raised by this article is still valid, the basic facts that provoked it are already obsolete. ReplayTV [] has already disabled this feature.

    In fact, they did so months ago!

    I'm a very happy long-time Replay owner (since October of 1999) and I agree with the author that the product has significant advantages over Tivo. However, I think he's blown this all out of proportion.

    First of all, when you are pausing the show you are watching, what difference does it make if they put an advertisement on the screen? Really, is it that much of an intrusion? Come on!

    Second of all, even when this feature was still active (and its been disabled for months now) you could bypass the ads simply by pressing one more key after you hit Pause. (The Exit key).

    Once again, this is much ado about nothing, in the case of the specific ReplayTV feature, anyway.

  • Actually, rolling-back to SP3 from SP4 was not easy due to the fact that SP4 made changes to the SAM and Security Hives of NT 4.0. This change also makes it difficult to use the NT 4.0 CD to do repair installations on post-SP4 systems.
  • by kevinank ( 87560 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @10:23AM (#318510) Homepage

    Notwithstanding the earlier comments about the feature having been corrected after lots of people complained...

    Software is just a set of instructions that controls hardware, so it seems logical that the software would do what you want it to do. What is it going to do; complain?

    But that isn't really true. Software serves the purposes of the people who write it, but only indirectly serves the needs of the consumer who buys it. A company writes useful software because they can trade that software for money, and writing good software lets them collect more money for more software. But the software is written by the company and for the company.

    That is really the reason that I love Linux. It is written for my needs by other people with the same needs. Compare the advertising screens in AIM and GAIM for example, the ad filtering tools of Netscape 6 (or IE for that matter) versus Mozilla, or the spam filtering of procmail and mutt compared with Outlook.

    Advertising pressure is all around us. Eventually your VR-spec's will no doubt advertise nearby pizza parlours in flashing green and red trying to attract your attention away from the sidewalk ahead of you.

    He who has the code controls his own future; I want to be in control of the data I see, I don't want the machines that serve me to make their own decisions about what I should see based on the interests and focus groups of the corporations that supply them.

    I'd add that the end of the world is upon you all, but then I really would be needlessly raving. But truly -- all of you who cut down open source or Linux every chance you get. Have you really thought through what you will be getting instead?

  • One forced upgrade that I'm really pissed about right now is that of internet explorer.

    Sure, most people who use it are using versions 5.01 or 5.5 right now.... but what about those who aren't? I actually PREFER version 4.02 to the latter stuff, but with the bug that was on /. a few days ago, it mentioned that they didn't put out a patch for 4.02, let alone even test to see if it HAD the bug! So now I have to be veeeery wary when using IE4... sucks.
  • This happened to me, in a slightly different realm. A certain cable company I was using (by lack of other choice) "upgraded" their digital cable service about 6 months ago. Unfortunately, the upgrade was horrible. It limited some of the basic functionality of digital cable drastically (the worst was the guide menu, which shrunk horizontally to one time slot, vertically to 6, down from 3 and 9).

    They obviously had something new and better to replace this with: lots and lots of advertising. They started inserting ads everywhere possible. The guide was blanketed with a pay-per-view ad in one corner, a cable service ad in another (go figure, you already have it, and they still have to eat valuable screen space to advertise to you), and an ad they were selling out to local businesses in the third corner, leaving a very small area for the actual guide menu. They also added advertisements to the banner that appears as you change channels.

    Unfortunately, the end user had no choice, as the upgrade just happened over the cable feed, and there was no way to control it. The worst of it, though, was that they decided that the new features (advertisements) made it much nicer, I suppose, so they raised the subscription rate about 10% over the already rediculous amounts.

    I did spend about 2 hours on the phone, listing specific complaints with them, with the basic response of "tough", to which I promptly cancelled my service and lived without television for a short while. Luckily, I moved soon after, and haven't had quite the same problems here.

    Unfortunately, with some of these markets that have such huge barriers to entry, it's tough to do much about the shit some companies want to impose on their users. Too little competition, and only between 2 or 3 companies, really keeps service crappy. Often, the only real control you have is not to partake in their service.
  • by BarMeister ( 99794 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:31AM (#318519) Homepage
    What I really want to see is a virus that updates itself. I am so sick of having to wait for someone to send me an email attachment with the latest virus. Let's cut out the middleman.
  • Man I'm sick of all these Gen-X'ers talking about the MARKET, they have this faith that the market will always produce the best solution to any problem ... what none of you realize is that while the market is "correcting" consumers are getting fucked.
  • Here's what they tell their customers: []
    • Q. What does the ReplayTV Service provide?
      A. The ReplayTV Service is the heart of ReplayTV. It provides the nightly Channel Guide updates to your ReplayTV unit. This ensures you've always got the latest TV shows to record. Part of the nightly update is ReplayZones-categories of the best shows from some of the biggest names in television. The Zones change every day, so you always have access to the best new programming. The ReplayTV Service is your personal television organizer. ReplayTV will record: your favorite daily or weekly shows shows based on a theme you choose shows you find using a keyword search shows from the ReplayZones categories you pick In addition, when new features are available, the ReplayTV Service delivers them directly to the ReplayTV unit over the telephone line.
    • Q. How much is the ReplayTV Service?
      A. The basic ReplayTV Service is free. That's right, no monthly fees to pay. That should free up some cash for your favorite snacks-which, by the way, you can now grab whenever you want. Just hit pause. And have fun.

    Note that nothing in the "features" indicates that they will ever download advertising, or delete an existing feature.

    So if they go beyond that, they've "exceeded their authorized access", as the term is used at 18 USC 1030 [], the "anti-hacking" statute:

    (4) knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization, or exceeds authorized access, and by means of such conduct furthers the intended fraud and obtains anything of value, unless the object of the fraud and the thing obtained consists only of the use of the computer and the value of such use is not more than $5,000 in any one-year period;

    Viewed in terms of federal computer crime law, Replay's actions look like this:

    1. Replay misrepresented their intent in requesting access to the user's computer.
    2. Having thus fradulently induced the user to provide said access, they then abused the limited access their users provided them to break into the user's computer and install a program.
    3. Said program gained revenue for Replay, thus obtaining something of value.

    That looks like a federal crime. The FBI's local office should be contacted.

  • Not good enough. The law says "exceeds authorized access". This has been litigated, where someone had a valid account with an ISP and did things they weren't supposed to do. They had "authorized access", but exceeded it. That may be the case here.

    A disclaimer hidden in some policy statement somewhere may not be enough to override a criminal statute, either.

  • See, I'm not sure it's entirely true that manufacturers just give people what they want. There are powerful forces in effect that cause manufacturers to seduce, trick or browbeat people into desiring whatever it is that the manufacturer is producing - whether people really want or need it at all.

    Let's say you have a factory. Using classic Industrial Revolution assembly-line technology, this factory allows you to make things. Of course, the economy of scale is in full effect here, so in order for you to produce items cheaply enough to offset the factory's operating costs you must produce massive quantities of those items.

    Now it's not enough to just produce lots of items - they won't pay off your operating costs by sitting in a warehouse, you know! (In fact, they'll just cost you more money if you store them for any length of time - inventory is bad.)

    And you can't decide not to produce lots of items, because then your factory is just sitting there, using up valuable real estate, and costing you money!

    So you have all these items that you must produce - whichs costs money - and then you have to sell them, to recover the cost of making them. Turning a profit is nice, too.

    As a result, manufacturers are constantly faced with warehouses full of random stuff that they must then get us to purchase. Why? Not because we need it. Not because we wanted it - hell, we didn't even know Nike Air Jordans existed until Nike told us about them. . . No, they must sell this stuff simply because it's there.

    It's not always like this, but it's often enough the case that you can't seriously say that manufacturers just sell us what we want. They sell us whatever they have, assuming their marketing campaign is good enough to convince us to exchange money for it.

    Now go buy a Mercedes SUV.

  • When's the last time you've been able to use a computer with off-the-shelf games

    My games are so off-the-shelf that they've never even been on a shelf. Am I correct in inferring a hierarchy analogous to that of New York theater, i.e. "shelf," "off-shelf," and "off-off-shelf"? Besides, there are still some very popular games that don't need a GeForce or a 1 GHz Athlon. For example, TETRIS []® and TETANUS [](TM) both run just fine on my 25 MHz 486DX. If game makers can't make their software gracefully degrade on old hardware, that's their problem.

    and Windows applications, as well as Windows itself, for more than a year or two

    Most popular proprietary apps require Windows 95, or Windows 95 with Winsock 2. M$ Office, on the other hand...

  • Apple's Quicktime doesn't let me save the .mov either. I happen to LIKE saving movie trailors and backing them up to my "Movies CD".

    View Source on the HTML document that links to or embeds the movie and grab the movie's HTTP URL. (This does not work for pnm:// or rtsp:// URLs or URLs whose servers are Referer: protected.) Then make a new HTML document that links to said URL. (In IE, you can enter about:<a href="url">here</a> to create this document on the fly.) Right-click the link, Save Target As..., enter a path on your local filesystem, wait an hour, and your movie is ready to play.

  • a friend had a folder with every single installer for every version of every program that he's ever downloaded, I thought that it was a great idea. The folder is archived to CD every six months or so

    I do this too; I have at least two CDs of this stuff (mixed in with a bit of w4r3z), but sometimes it fails:
    • Some programs' primary functionality is to access content on the Internet (e.g. RealPlayer). This software may contact a central server and automatically download and install updates.
    • Some programs' primary functionality is to access content on a specific server on the Internet, which may block older clients <cough>AIM</cough>.
    • Some software expires based on a date pulled from either your system clock or the atomic clocks on the Internet, forcing you to download and install updates.
  • In quality and reliability, there's a thing called the "bathtub curve". At the start and finish of the product's life, the probability of failure is high, and it drops down to a valley in between which is the normal running life, where probability of failure is low.

    This is not the same as saying that the probability of failure is zero.

    So your CPU failed early - you maybe got caught by the front end of the curve. Or maybe you were within the "normal running" section, but just got unlucky.

    Point is, things still break down. Shit happens. Mobos and CPUs aren't 100% tested, they rely on the process being 99.99...% reliable, and sometimes you just get one of the 0.00..1% ones. Given the millions of PC chips produced each year, I'd be surprised if some didn't fail early.

    Modern things being unreliable is really a myth anyway. Old cars were constantly in and out of the garage being fixed, and drop rust like snowflakes. Old hard drives were hopelessly unreliable, and old floppy drives tended to eat disks for breakfast. Old memory needed error-checking (remember parity memory?) so that the CPU/BIOS could detect when it got corrupted.

    What old things do survive are the ones which were incredibly overengineered in their time - old houses, some old cars, etc. And a few old computers. Overengineering is an option, but you always have to spend more money to buy something that's overengineered, and the general concensus around ppl who buy hardware is that they want it cheap - they don't think about much else, except maybe for speed. And rightly so, if they're going to be upgrading in 2 years time - you really don't need the overengineering to make something last 10 years. So there isn't much overengineered computer stuff out there, simply bcos no-one wants it. You may all say you want ultra-reliable hardware that'll last 20 years, but in the end you'll always buy a $1000 system instead of a $2000 system, if the two have exactly the same specs.

  • You neglected to mention that:
    • It's terribly slower now.
    • If you want to see the "blurb" for the show you've got on, it used to be an overlay, but now it's full-screen with ads (so you can't keep watching and quick check which ep it is).
    • They've taken to spamming the boxes, too. ("Watch Idiot vs. Dolt tonight at 7:00 in the heavyweight championship... only $349.95 plus TT&L".)
    • It's hideously slower!
    Did I mention that it seems to be using a 486 over at AOL via a satellite link to Afghanistan to do anything? I won't even get onto the fact that they use "Red" for movies and "red" for cartoons (or kids shows?); after all, as long as I have my TV tuned well and don't lose my Pantone chart, I can tell the difference. :)
  • Corporations most of the time just meet the demands of the consumers. The folks who read /. are a very specialized niche and don't represent the whole market. We read something like this and automatically assume that it is being shoved down our throat. But that's not true. Consumers like replacing and getting "new" items every couple of years.

    Just look at the automobile industry. How many people lease cars? Millions! A lease is not the best financial decision, it's a horrible financial decision. But people don't buy a new car based on finances, they purchase it b/c they want to look cool, get a new vehicle every 3 years, and enjoy that "new car smell". It allows them to keep up with the Jones.

    Computers will probably ultimately end up the same way. With fewer people getting into technology, or actually caring what goes on inside a computer (as long as it has e-mail and AIM they're happy) they will be glad to throw out the "old" model every 2-3 years, and get a brand new one! "It must work better, it's newer than the old model!"

    Of course, my examples are in reference to hardware. Software is slightly different. Most users will like the automatic upgrades. They don't know enough to try it themselves, and when they do they spend most of their time on the phone with tech support. The /. community won't like this, but we won't purchase software like this. Someone will supply our demand for stable software, whether we write it ourselves or let someone else do it.

  • by ( 142825 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:39AM (#318546) Homepage
    Back when companies actually paid attention to quality in code, they did not charge for bug fixes.

    I argued with one company in 1988 that I should not have to pay for support to report their bugs to them. Later, if you were the first to report a bug to Microsoft, they would then not charge you for the upgrade.

    Before, on the old days, I called in to report a problem with SoftIce .99, they told me that they knew about it and if I would like the beta version to see if that fixed the problem.

    The web has helped a little so that there is an easy way to see the bug list instead of waiting 30 minutes on hold to be told that the problem was in their database.

    If the UCITA had a provision to require a vendor to be responsible for their bugs, it would pass like wildfire (or at least with users).

  • by Coulson ( 146956 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @12:21PM (#318547) Homepage
    Before you reject the idea of automatic software upgrades out of hand, consider the reasons why companies use this mechanism.

    A large part of the software industry is becoming subscription based. Unlike traditional shrink-wrapped software, subscription-based software "services" use client software (or hardware) which works in conjunction with servers run by the company. These servers hold play lists, hosted web sites, TV listings, you name it. This allows the software to access dynamic data which can't be bundled up and shipped to the client. Subscription fees are like cable fees: you are paying the company for the service (the cost of bandwidth and server maintenance, generating new content, hosting web sites, etc.), not the software itself. This is a common model for MMORPGs, for instace.

    Given that the service requires clients to interact with servers run by the company, let's consider some scenarios:

    • the server software needs to be upgraded or rewritten in such a way that preserving backwards compatibility would be very hard. In this case the client needs to be upgraded, otherwise it will no longer be able to talk to the servers and the service is useless! This is a necessary upgrade. An opt-in strategy isn't going to work if the change will break the old client. Preserving backwards compatibility can be an enormous headache to a company with limited resources, and automatic upgrades means you don't have to do it.
    • the company wants to offer bug fixes (oops! you know it happens, your software is buggy too. :>) An opt-in strategy (with a description of the problems being resolved) is fine as long as customers realize that not upgrading means they won't get the latest fixes (or any newly-introduced bugs...)
    • the company wants to offer new functionality. You're paying for the service, and the company wants you to be happy with it. Companies want to make products that you like using. This should be opt-in though: it's your money, it should be your choice as to whether you want the feature.

    There are bad reasons too. A company wants to add a new money-making service, and since this means more revenue they want to make it mandatory. I can understand why cash-starved companies would want to do that, but it's wrong. If someone is paying for a service already, they should never be forced to take an upgrade which makes them pay more (in time, money, or aggravation). That means the company is failing to live up to its end of the bargain.

  • by btempleton ( 149110 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @12:19PM (#318548) Homepage
    As somebody who was working for Personal Software (VisiCorp) when Visicalc was launched, but in no way part of the group writing the licence, let me add my own view on why the licence came to be.

    It wasn't just because of the fear of bridges falling down. That was a longstanding fear with tools and programs sold to engineers, and was the source of clauses in many contract waiving "consequential damages." For example, when you use film, they put in a warning that they are only liable for the cost of the film if it fails, not the value of the picture you lost. If not, they would have to charge a lot more for film and developing, since people use 20 cent film to take million dollar pictures.

    It was much more than that. The reality, as all programmers know, is that large and complex systems have bugs. They will always have bugs. All the copies sold will all have the same bugs. There will be new versions, which will fix some of the bugs, but not all of them. And the new versions will have new bugs.

    This will never go away. And the software vendors know it, but the users at the time might not have known it. The reality was, if you can get sued because you have bugs, you can't release software at all.

    This is unlike most manufactured goods. When they have flaws, usually the flaws are limited to a few particular units. When they have design flaws, which force recalls or class action suits, product lines and companies are often ruined. Most products had simpler designs, and design flaws were few because you could test for them.

    But you can't test software enough to get out all the design flaws. Or if you can, it's a rare and very expensive skill.

    So the only way to realistically sell software, especially $150 software like Visicalc, is to say, "Face it, this thing is going to come with some bugs."

    I always figured at some point the world would come to understand what bugs are and we could develop social and legal concepts of what sort of warranties make sense for software. So that people will do QA, but not delay releasing software endlessly. So that the sort of bug that raises legal liability exists but is rare enough that people can run a business.

    We aren't there yet.
  • Don't worry about it. I already have the new software, and the good changes far outweigh the bad. (Plus, I don't really think any of the changes are bad to start with)

    The backdoor for 30 second skip, I've never heard of. Is it mentioned on the TiVo underground?

    Also, though I originally was irritated by the auto-correct change, I got used to it quickly... and I think the "slow-fingered" people in the house appreciate it.

    However, if they ever decided to put advertisements in the software or remove a feature I really liked, I'm sure I'd be pretty upset.
  • Hey this is just like basic cable TV. Back in the day it took little for ya to learn what to do with a splitter and some coax cable. Well, welcome to the big ride.

    This reminds me a lot of DSS (DirecTV) and their constant efforts to battle pirates. We live in an age where the business model of "Give away the razor, but sell the blades" holds fast. Continuing support is the ONLY way to rack in the big cash with very expensive technological products (er... and I don't mean the Gillete Mach 3).

    Essentially, we are no longer buying products (as this article suggests), but rather so many forces have FORCED us into continuing service and support for any kind of product: razors, soft contact lens, hell CLOTHING needs washed heheh... well that's a weird example, but clothing is a great example of a product that is not perfect. It gets dirty. It needs washed. Its counter-productive to anticipate everything that could be spilled on it (although I think I read they're working on that).

    So, welcome to more of the same.


  • is that this seems to be a valid scenario for Microsoft .NET

    "Your desired configuration is not compatible with our marketing plans, you will be upgrade accordingly.

    it used to be a joke about MS and the Borg. Now it is not so funny.

    It is this sort of thing that leads to "bad thoughts"

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • []

    NOTE: they even have a 800 number for customer care. Remember kiddies, no foul language.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • Well, for exampl there is this bit [] in the Register today:

    Microsoft has knifed Bluetooth by refusing to support the technology in Windows XP.

    "The format still seems to have some bugs in it... It looks like Bluetooth is not ready for prime time" Carl Stork, general manger of the Windows division told EE Times at WinHEC last week. Stork added, we presume with a straight face, that "we wouldn't want to ship something that doesn't work".

    hahahahahehehe hohoho

    But in hind site, this is exactly the problem on auto updates. How can you trust them IF you want to exercise some control over your own technology.

    Heck the most recent IE patch was bobbled, as reported here []:

    . . . the company's patch to fix a potentially seriously security problem works only if they upgrade their browsers.

    I look forward to the following headline:

    "It was announced today that the latest update of IE from Microsoft replaces all web links, etc with Microsoft equivalents, erasing all previously existing data as being irrelevant.

    An MS spokesman said: 'Why wouldn't you want Microsoft Porn? It's simply better!' "

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • 1) Taking away one "backdoor" is not a big deal.

    As I said, I'd never even tried the backdoor. But I did notice that people were upset over it. I'm not saying that TiVo isn't allowed to pull it (and it's not like they killed a selling point), but people are certainly missing the fact that it's gone. As for people hacking in a replacement, there's the whole issue of the myworld application being closed.

    2) Capacities weren't "reduced on hacked TiVos." The new OS just requires a little more space.

    I thought I did a decent job of explaining that it wasn't TiVo going after hacked units, but rather was an aspect of the update taking up more space. Besides, there's a certain "high score" factor in having a TiVo with a lot of hours.

    3) If you know about the change, how can you not know about the fix?

    I'm not an avid reader of the TiVo hacking forum. I read it for a few weeks starting with right before I decided to get my TiVo, then stopped reading. I probably wouldn't have even known 2.0 was finally rolling out, except that I was having problems with my TiVo and decided to go digging for repair tips. Despite having thrown a second harddrive in the thing, I've still never hooked a machine up to the serial port -- there's no PC nearby and either lugging the TiVo/TV to the PC or the PC to the TiVo would've been a pain. Even worse, if the BIOS password isn't "factory", I'm going to have to go through all the trouble of recracking the case.

    Furthermore, I'd argue that the change in autocorrection is something that would also be visible to someone who wasn't into hacking their TiVo. Part of the beauty of the TiVo is that, while there are all kinds of fun ways to get into the system and such, it's also nice and simple from a J. Random Consumer standpoint. And if J. Random Consumer has also been using his TiVo for 6 months or so, he's going to notice that suddenly the FF is off. Personally, I never even bothered to figure out the timing for the 3rd FF speed -- the 2nd speed still got me through a commercial break in about 10 seconds, gave me a chance to see if there were any interesting commercials (I've been known to stop, go back, and watch commercials that interest me), and still autocorrected almost perfectly. I've got it down to a science.

    I've gotten all my season passes crammed in there with the workaround from the FAQ. I'm happy with my TiVo. I'm more than happy -- I've gone around convincing other people how great TiVo is (which, admittedly, isn't that difficult to do). I, personally, feel no need to upgrade. Without such a need, any negatives (no matter how small or trivial) aren't being outweighed by any positives.

  • by Erasmus Darwin ( 183180 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @09:35AM (#318567)
    Amusingly enough, this has some very current relevance to the TiVo, as well. Around the end of March, TiVo started rolling out version 2.0 of their software to the general public. For the most part, it's an upgrade that fixes a few bugs and improves a lot of the functionality. However, like the ReplayTV "upgrade", it's not voluntary unless you're willing to forego the guide data (which provides most of the functionality of the unit -- I know I wouldn't bother if I had to manually enter programming times; I may be smart enough to do it, but I'm also lazy).

    There are at least 3 "negative" features in the new TiVo release:

    • Removal of the 30-second skip backdoor (there was a backdoor code that gave your TiVo a 30-second skip button like ReplayTV has; never used it personally)
    • Capacity reduction for hacked TiVos (this isn't a delibrate attempt to attack the hacked units; however, some of the new features automatically grab extra storage space on "larger" units -- the TiVo produced units with enough capacity to trigger this feature already have that space reserved)
    • Autocorrection jump-back changes (when you hit play after fast-forwarding, the TiVo jumps back a bit to autocorrect for human reactions; personally I'm totally comfortable with the way it is now and am dreading the changes)

    If the upgrades were completely optional, I'd be more than happy to stick with my existing version of the software. I love my TiVo. It works great. I don't want them changing it.

  • As far as I can tell, ReplayTV users only pay for the initial hardware. Downloading of listings, as well as software, is free of charge. This is contrary to the way Tivo operates - they charge (currently) $10/month, or a flat-fee extra cost ($199, soon to be $249) for a "lifetime" subscription.

    With ReplayTV, your threats only really amount to 'If you do this, I'm never going to buy a ReplayTV unit again!' Frankly, this isn't really all that much of a threat to a company who already received your money.

    On the other hand, the Tivo $10/month fee is key to their profitability. If you and 1,000 of your closest tivo-using friends (see below on the tivo forums) were to threaten to leave them due to a similar complaint, you'd probably be able to raise some eyebrows.

    Now, this is a pretty interesting situation. While I've always been the first to criticize subscription software (which, essentially, this is - since you can't use Tivo w/o the listings [as of version 2.0 of their software]), it seems to me that we're actually receiving some leverage here - at least when we use the software as a group.

    To see an excellent example of a group of software users coming together in a community, check out the AVS Tivo Forum [], where a very good number of Tivo users congregate to speak with each other, and extraordinarily, Tivo representatives. This forum is a model of how a company should interact with their customers. They even rolled out a beta version of their latest software update to a significant number of forum users - giving them the opportunity to test their code on a large scale, and giving these users a chance to be the guinea pigs they desire to be :)

  • You would think they would be stumbling over each other in a rush to patent such a consumer unfriendly concept.
  • Heh.. not a problem. All we need is for some young upstart company (or even a group of hardware geeks really) is to reverse engineer the damn thing, write their own version that uses Linux and sell it for cheap.

    BZZT! Sorry! DMCA says you can't reverse engineer. You know, it really just hit me that the Man is truly taking control...

  • Silly question. Couldn't you find the link and do:

    lynx -dump [pasted-link] >

    Saves time and all...

  • by agentZ ( 210674 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2001 @10:00AM (#318586)
    No, they just want you to buy Quicktime Pro, which does let you save movies. This was marketing, the same kind used by drug dealers. Give you free samples so you get 'hooked' on the product, and then start charging whatever they want for it.

    Of course, saving movies isn't quite the same thing as heroin, but it's the same marketing principle... Now, if ReplayTV offered to restore the pause screen feature for a monthly fee of say, $5 (probably more than they make from the advertising screens), they would be doing the same thing as well.

  • But you can't test software enough to get out all the design flaws. Or if you can, it's a rare and very expensive skill.

    Absolutely. I did QA for a system that had to defect-free for two weeks. It was the most boring job ever - testing every goddamn feature in the thing in 100 different circumstances. The brute-force approach could work for the project because 1) the US govt funded the thing so cost was no object, 2) there were plenty of CS undergrads who would work for grossly substandard wages and 3)there were plenty of fresh undergrads to replace the one that quit after going slightly insane. If you had to pay current market wages you could never make a profit by making 100% reliable software.

    I always figured at some point the world would come to understand what bugs are and we could develop social and legal concepts of what sort of warranties make sense for software. So that people will do QA, but not delay releasing software endlessly. So that the sort of bug that raises legal liability exists but is rare enough that people can run a business.

    We aren't there yet.

    We're as far away as we can get. If I wrote a program with a hidden payload that erased half your files I think I'd be safe legally as long as I insert enough disclaimerage. Remember when Intel claimed it wasn't a problem that the original Pentium couldn't divide correctly? Or that they weren't legally obligated to replace them? Some liability for bugs (at least in payware) has to come back - how much will be a fine art for courts to determine. Ford is not liable if an out-of-warranty vehicle crashes into a retaining wall because the driver didn't replace old brake pads. But they are liable for braindead designs, like relying on tire pressure to provide stability. Something like that needs to happen in software - the limit of liability has to swing back towards the center.

    Zero liability for closed-source software is really absurd since you are prevented from fixing problems yourself. It's one thing to disclaim liability for flaws in open-source products, where anybody can fix the problem as needed, but to tell someone that they can't have their money back, they can't fix the bugs, and you will maybe fix them sometime is beyond the pale.
  • I use AT&T Digital Cable for TV (no bandwidth yet, the lamers). It comes with this great surf feature which allows(ed) you to scan 12 channels at a time to see text descriptions of what is showing at any given time, and you can skip up/down by 12 channels at a time, or ahead by 1/2 hour increments or days.

    A few months after signup, they "upgraded" the console to limit the text-surf to seven channels at a time, with only 20 character width available for program description. The reason? So they could grab half the screen area for ads.

    What really hacks me off is that there's a separate $2/month charge for this "service" that teases me to watch more TV, and they reduced its functionality. I think I'm about ready to switch to the Starband/Echostar 150 channel option for $99/month.
  • But luckily, with MS Service Packs, and most hotfixes now, it's VERY easy to rollback changes. I think that that is a VERY important feature to any "upgrade".

  • The author of this work probably didn't bother to read the contract / EULA / indentured servitude scroll. I'll wager it says that they have every right to make any changes they wish, and since you're only "renting" the service, you're tough outta luck, bub.

    Don't you think they got a little heat from the advertisers, since the "skip over rate" is more than they can bear?

    Seriously, this guy has three choices:

    1. Do nothing / live with it. Most Americans will probably take this route, like the sloths that we are.
    2. Return it / cancel service. If enough people do this, they may stop their changes. However, only the wacko, disgruntled Ted Kaczynski-types will do this, and no one ever takes those very seriously, unless they get near a post box.
    3. Hack it. This option is most likely illegal under the terms of the DCMA ("Yer Honor, we used encryption-based screws to keep the contents of the case from being hacked and maliciously opened!"). They know you're out there and they're watching what you do, every time junior phones home.
    I feel sorry for people like this, but it seems to me to be another example of giving up a little freedom (privacy to have one's viewing habits remain anonymous) for a tiny, tiny bit o' conveninence. Sorry, but my VCR works just fine for now, and at some point when I want this kind of service (mostly for the better picture), I'll build my own.
  • Now both Replay and Tivo are hungry for money. Both companies are losing money. Accordign to Freeedgar, Tivo lost over 200 million dollars, last quarter losing 89 million dollars

    Does not surprise me, they are both part of the dotcom, build it, be first and you will inherit the earth. Only the basic business model was never as simple as make a great bit of hardware and sell it for a profit. Oh no, they wanted to get into the TV listings service business - well Tivo's CEO boasted as much.

    It is a cute idea but the implemenation sucketh, I should be able to plug in as many firewire boxes into the device as I like to boost capacity. I should be able to tape radio and manage my CD library (ripped to MP3 or similar).

    I would rather pay $1500 for a box that does what I want and need it to than $400 for a premature attempt to go mass market.

    Why do so many slashdotters drool over a closed box like Tivo?

  • I think that consumers should have the option of wether to buy these features or not. As the article said: Until now, no matter how cynical the software manufacturer's part of the annual upgrade dance, it took two to Tango, and those who didn't want to upgrade anymore could just step off the dance floor. This means that basically they are saying Forgot you! Users never requested a sharp reduction in the functionality of their machines, no notice was given that the machines would be downgraded in this way, and the users, who must of necessity tie to the TV logs to use the device, had no way of avoiding the damage that was done!

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.