You’ve no doubt heard the terms software, freeware, shareware, vaporware, shovelware and bloatware. Today, I want to introduce you to a new term to describe the practice of cell phone carriers who embed unwanted and uninstallable software into their cell phone ROMS. The new term is “ForceWare.”
I am really enjoying my Droid X from Verizon Wireless. It’s an incredibly capable Smartphone. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and a compass. It runs on a flavor of Linux known as Android. You can print from it and take photos or stunning high definition video on its 8 megapixel camera. It’s a music player and you can watch television on it. And with the Swype keyboard, I can type faster on it than on my desktop or laptop. It certainly is a technological marvel and a credit to human ingenuity.
The greatest problem I see on this phone and other phones running Android, is the inclusion of ForceWare. ForceWare is a regular topic of discussion on the Verizon Wireless Community forums, often resulting in very long and angrily toned threads. There’s even a petition circulating on the Motorola Support forums demanding an end to the practice. (I’ve never heard anyone ever say they like MotoBlur!)
But what are cell phone carriers supposed to do? They are in the business of generating revenue for their shareholders, aren’t they? Isn’t that the purpose of any business, to generate revenue? The carriers highly supplement the cost of these new Smartphones when you agree to a multi-year contract. They have to recover the revenue somehow, don’t they?
This is where ForceWare comes in. It’s part of the cell carriers’ revenue model. Third party companies pay dearly for the right to include their revenue generating apps in the Smartphone ROM image. The Driod X comes with applications for Blockbuster and CityID, both useless in my opinion. It also has the VZ Navigator app which essentially does the same thing as Google Maps except Google’s app and service is free. The problem with the ForceWare is that you can’t remove these apps unless the phone is “rooted” which voids the warranty, could brick the phone on subsequent OS updates; and loses the support of the manufacturer. “Rooting” is the practice of hacking the phone to give yourself root access to Android.
The arguments against ForceWare remind me of the lawsuits brought against Microsoft and their practice of forcing end users to make use of their software by embedding it into the Windows OS. In Microsoft’s case, it was determined that their practice resulted in unfair competitive practices and they were ordered to allow third party apps top be installed and used as the default apps for browsing and media.
Does ForceWare result in unfair competitive practices? I don’t think so. Even though we’re forced to keep the apps on our phones and we have to periodically endure annoying nag screens, we are not forced to use it or prevented from installing third party apps that do the same things for free. I sincerely doubt the carriers are going to change their practices any time soon unless they are challenged in court in which case the challengers are likely to lose. But until if and when they do, we’re going to continue to see ForceWare on our Smartphones and hear the complaints of unhappy end users.