Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Commercial Interests vs New Technology

I often wonder what the world of computers and technology would be like were it not for commercial companies making sure their user's choices are restricted to their own products, and were it not for all the law suits due to infringing patents that defy common sense.

Competing techinical products are great - if only the winner was the one that proved to be technically superior as opposed to the one whose inventor had the biggest pockets.

It is an ongoing joke in the web programmer circles as to how Amazon managed to get a patent for a One-Click shopping service. Most shopping websites allow customers to create a profile holding their address and payment details to make repeat shopping easier. So I am browsing a shopping site, I have logged into the site so they know my identity. If such a site allows me to click a 'Buy' button and my order is created this infringes an Amazon patent.

Another example is the iPod. On it I store music - each track having properties such as Genre, Artist, Album and Track name. The obvious way for me to choose what to play is to select the property I wish to use, then to look through a list of all music sorted by said property. This is patented by Creative Labs. How else am I meant to choose my music? Any 10 year old asked this question will come up with the same answer. How can a commercial company patent something that is not a serious invention?

These patents causes competing products that cannot afford to pay for a patent license to deliberately design some inferior interface. How is this good for the user?

Quite often a company has a successful product that people like. It gets an established user base. As the product and technology evolves this company makes some bad decisions that lead to a worse product. Users are then stuck with a dilema and have to choose to put up with the new inferior product, or deal with the upheaval and problems of switching to an alternate and incompatible product.

I get so annoyed when features are removed as products evolve and users are forced to buy a second add-on product or upgrade to get the features back.

A final issue is when companies set rules and restrictions that govern how other companies can create products to integrate with their products. So often these are designed to prevent integration and cause users inconvenience to limit the user base that embrace the competitors product.

Havn't I done well not mentioning Microsft and Apple in the above article??

Maybe this is one area where I should be grateful to the regulation fanatics that run the EU? They have taken on Microsoft for uncompetitive practicses. The problem with fining a company for bad practices is that they simple pass the cost of the fine on to the end user. When you buy your next Windows think how nice it is that some of that price paid the record breaking EU fine they incurred! I await to see if the EU ruling actually improves the user experience.


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