14 December 2011

Selecting Biblical Software: Future Proofing

A New York Times editorial ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/opinion/20sun4.html ) pondered on replacing cell phones. Clouds cites thirty three months as the life expectancy of a cell phone. ( http://www.cloudsmagazine.com/cellphone-reviews-and-news/the-spanish-mobile-home-to-nearly-two-and-a-half-years.html )

Laptops and desktops are routinely replaced every three to five years. Those who want the latest and greatest will update their system at least once a year. When the computer is replaced, the operating system and software is replaced. The file format used by the older software is usually not readable by the newer software. In some instances, a program update can remove the ability to read data.

Hard copy books are expensive. Nobody denies that. Even at thrift stores, a 1,000 volume theological library will set one back between two and three thousand dollars. Purchased new from CBD, one's wallet will be at least ten thousand dollars lighter. Purchased elsewhere, one could easily be down twenty to thirty thousand dollars. However, with a hard copy book, the book is mine to use as I see fit. If I want to decorate it with ten thousand different colours, I can do so. If I want to add so many notes to it, that I can't read the original text, I can do so. If I want to give it away, I can do so. If my great-niece wants to study it, she can do so.

With software, and data for software, what is sold is a license to use the material. One does not own the content in any meaningful, or even meaningless way. (I'm aware of the Denver Federal Court of Appeals ruling that implies that when one purchases a DVD from Target, one purchases the copyright to all of the content on that DVD. That unfortunate ruling is best described as an aberration by judges who failed to understand both the facts of that specific case, and the law that was being argued by the defendant. There have been repeated demonstrations that the plaintiff knowingly and wilfully attempted to mislead everybody.)

By licensing content, and refusing all rights, with the possible exception of viewing the content, the license holder can require the licensee to do anything. As Amazon has demonstrated, that includes removing content from one's system. (The other major book whose removal would starkly emphasis the plot, would be removing Fahrenheit 451.)

A "safe bet" is that your next computer will require software that is incompatible with your existing computer.
Two things to note:
  • What an organization claims about its software need not be objectively factual;
  • Two programs with the same name, but run on different platforms, need not have anything in common;
Whilst some organizations that provide software for three or more different platforms, also provide tools to migrate between those platforms, that does not mean that all resources will be migrated. Those tools are useful only if both your old platform, and your new platform are supported by the vendor. The cost of that migration can range from gratis to effectively repurchasing the entire library again.

For all practical purposes, there is only one organization1 whose data can be relied upon, to migrate smoothly from your old platform, to your new platform: The Sword Project. This is a function of:
  • TSP supporting more platforms than any other organization;
  • Copyright holders being terrified of the ramifications of Open Source Software;
Even more important than migrating to a new platform is: "What happens if your vendor goes out of business?" Will you still be able to use your software?

If the resources are on your system, and the software to use it does not require a call home, then you will be able to use the software:
  • If the resource is in the virtual cloud, it won't be available for you to use when the cloud is not available. Your Internet connection might be down. The Internet connection of the virtual cloud vendor might be down. Internet congestion might delay packets so much that the system times out;
  • If the software requires calling home, Microsoft has repeatedly demonstrated that even legitimate, authenticated software can be mis-labeled as "pirated", simply because the authentication systems are down, or otherwise functioning incorrectly;
Taking another common situation. You've spent hours studying the Bible using the software. Can you easily export your work product into an ISO certified file format, for use elsewhere? (The short answer to that answer is "no", because none of the currently available Biblical software supports ISO certified file formats.)
Alternatively, can you export your work product into something that can be easily converted into an ISO certified file format, without losing either presentation markup, or semantic markup?
For clergy, and those employed by religious organizations, the inability to export work product to another file format, might put them in breach of their contract with their employer. For those employees that don't have written contracts, some case law in the United States supports the legal theory that the intellectual property rights of your work product are owned by the organization that hired you, and as such, your failure to turn over that work product, regardless of the reason for that failure, means that you have stolen their property.

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

1 A second option is to write your own Biblical software, and port it to your new platform, as appropriate.
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