It is understandable that companies that produce software do not want to be held liable for misuse of their software, and could not conceivably be held liable for every bug encountered by every user of the software. Even Windows, which is deployed on most computers throughout the world and is possibly the most important piece of software in existence as a result, is buggy to an extent. However, there are certain pieces of software that merit special consideration because of the nature of their bugs or their market position. The one I’m looking at is Finale 2007.
Finale (http://www.finalemusic.com/) is a line of music notation and publication software intended for classical composers, writers of Jazz charts, and songwriters—basically anyone who notates music (rather than records it). Commercial licenses for the software are $500 and student licenses can be had for $250. It is essentially the Microsoft Office of music composition. The program allows the user to enter music on a page, representing any number of instruments, and to play back what has been written. The program is extraordinarily advanced in its features, allowing the composer complete control in writing the music, laying out the page, playing back the music, etc. Because of this, the program requires extensive training to produce publication-quality documents. Coincidentally, Finale has a near monopoly on this software, with its closest competitor being Sibelius (http://www.sibelius.com/home/index_flash.html). Having never used this software (as the composition faculty of this university as well as many others is trained only on Finale), I cannot attest to its quality.
Finale, on the other hand, is one of the buggiest programs I have ever used. It crashes in about 25% of the sessions that I use it. Between shutting down the program and opening it again, it will frequently change playback settings, completely altering the sound of the music. It is extraordinarily hard to add new lines of music to the score or to reorient the page from portrait (which is the default) to landscape (which is the standard for classical score publication) due to bugs in those areas. When playback has not been altered, it is extremely buggy during playback on computers released only a year before the software (my own, for example). I finished a semester-long project writing a string quartet to find that the last three or so minutes were completely unrecognizable because of errors regarding volume levels of the different parts. Overall, this software, as powerful as it is, is extraordinarily hard to use because of its bugs.
It seems to me that, because of Finale’s standing as being one of the only options for software in an admittedly niche field, it should be held responsible for the bugs in its software. Market forces will usually relegate buggy software to the bottom of the barrel, but because of Finale’s unique market and market position, as well as its unusual learning curve, market forces do not have the same effect on it as with other software. The software has had plenty of time to mature (version 1.0 was released in 1988, and new versions have been released yearly for some time). I know from other people’s experience, too, that I am not alone in experiencing these bugs. On the other hand, this is not critical software. When errors do happen, they never cause significant damage, assuming the composer has been saving his data at recent intervals. This is not a program where much is at stake in the event of a crash. Also, the program is functioning in every way that it is advertised. These bugs, while very annoying at times, do not cripple the functionality of the software beyond making some things harder to do. As I said before, though, I think the company should be held accountable because they are a near monopoly. I would like to hear what you all think, though.