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Glossary » merchantability


the degree to which a product is fit for its intended purpose, the degree to which it works correctly and is suitable for someone to purchase and use without serious risk. The term is directly about whether it is appropriate for a merchant to sell the product.

In legal terms, merchantability is often an implied value of any product that a consumer purchases, but in software, it is common to include a license agreement that disclaims responsibility for merchantability.

This is a significant ethical issue in the software business. On the one hand, the consumer needs to be able to use and rely upon software, and may not have an option to buy software for their purpose which does guarantee merchantability, which means the consumer has to suffer the full risk of any damages from software that has bugs. From an ethical point of view, the consumer certainly seems to have the right to expect that the software manufacturer made their best efforts to produce a quality product, but in fact there is no legal guarantee of that.

On the other hand, the software manufacturer is dealing with the very complex business of creating a software product, which due to its complexity, is very likely to contain bugs, and because of the unpredictability of those bugs and exactly how the software will be used, it’s very hard to predict the impact on the end user, and very hard to ensure that the most dangerous bugs will be the ones that are fixed.

This of course suggests that there is a big social problem with our reliance on unreliable software and our demand for ever-increasing complexity when we haven’t really mastered the lower-complexity problems first.