Jan 12, 2012

Out of The Box - The Inside Story

"Is it an out-of-the-box feature or does it comes with the product?", my colleague remarked. "What?", I puzzled back. He repeated the same thing again: "Is it an out-of-the-box feature or comes along with the product?". The catch here is the usage of the phrase out-of-the-box. He was thinking that it meant something which does not come by default with the product. Though the name indicates that way, my understanding o that phrase is the exact opposite. Many techies I have interacted with used this phrase to indicate a customization/modification of an actual software component. I used to think they are all wrong, and I am only right. Today, after a long debate with my colleague, I started reading about it on the internet. Such phrases come from nowhere, without any context, and their usage might vary.

As Wikipedia remarks,
Out of the box is the term used to denote items, functionalities, or features that do not require any additional installation. In addition to being used for tangible products, the phrase is often used in a less literal sense for software, which may not be distributed in an actual box but offer certain functions "out of the box," i.e. without modification.
Since we hear such phrases from people, it is quite easy to get convinced that it is what we think it is. I forgot from whom I learnt it and I really wonder why I was so firm about its actual meaning. We are convinced mainly because of a similar phrase: "Thinking Outside the Box", which would refer to creative thinking. So it also sounds correct to give a similar meaning to it.

To generalize the problem, let's take a horn in a vehicle. With my current understanding, I will say, A Horn is an out-of-the-box feature of a Car.

My friend added relativity to the usage. He feels that it can be used only in places where a product X has feature A, which product Y or Z does not have. In that case, he would say, A is an out-of-the-box feature of X.

It looks more like we are on the same understanding but looking at it with different perspective. The question still remains unanswered: "Does out-of-the-box feature mean something that comes by default with a product or something that does not?"

Any thoughts on this? 


  1. You had posted this long back. Nevertheless here is my thought on this....., :)
    From what I have learnt, the term 'out of the box' cannot be used to distinguish the uniqueness of a feature in a product. I would have to disagree with your friend's understanding on how A is an out of the box feature of X, since Y and Z do not have. (Correct me if I am wrong)
    However the usage of this terminology is directed towards the features/ functionalities of a particular product/software which are readily available once the software is installed and do not require additional configuration to make it available. So to answer your question, "Out of the box" feature means something that comes by default with a product.


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