MS and JetBlue Speak

By Larry Dignan Print this article Print

Technology executives want software suppliers to offer better warranties, but it's an uphill climb.

Microsoft's Sunny Jensen Charlebois, product manager for worldwide pricing and licensing, says the software giant does update its applications to make appropriate fixes and enhance security. She argues that software is intellectual property that can't be guaranteed to work at every company because there are multiple suppliers and applications.

"Given all the elements and variables in an organization's infrastructure, I wouldn't say it's realistic to say in a warranty there are no bugs," says Charlebois. "Software is a different animal because it is updated often. The warranty says the software will do what we believe it will do."

Indeed, to Charlebois a patch by another name may not be a patch. Updates that happen to fix security flaws "are not patches," she says gamely. "They are updates. I am saying that with a straight face."

Jeff Norman, a partner at Chicago law firm Kirkland & Ellis, says that mode of thinking is rampant in the software industry. Bugs are acceptable to software makers. "No one would offer a warranty saying that software is bug-free because it just wouldn't be true," he says.

Jeff Cohen, the former chief information officer at JetBlue, a Microsoft customer, says there is no defense against bugs and flawed software because suppliers are never going to warranty that their products are bullet-proof.

"If a product has a bug in it, you're screwed," says Cohen, now the chief executive of Vertical Software Group. "The problem is there are too many variables in this business. There's always an out. The software guy says it was the integrator, and the integrator says, 'I didn't build the software.' Software warranties are only a liability statement about what [vendors] won't do."

Cohen says he got Microsoft to be responsive to JetBlue's needs by standardizing on its operating system and productivity applications. Becoming a showcase client gave him pull when, for instance, he needed fixes to his SQL databases.

Next Page: To get something that resembles a product warranty from software suppliers: Become a technology executive at a large company.

This article was originally published on 2004-08-02
Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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