[ISN] A Plague of Bugs

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Sat Jan 16 1999 - 15:44:48 PST

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    A Plague of Bugs
    As computers become ubiquitous, consumers have come to expect problems.
    Why is software so unreliable? 
    THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 1999
    The post-holiday season can bring an empty feeling. The cat has finished
    playing with the wrapping paper. Your Seasonal Affective Disorder has
    begun reasserting itself. You may find yourself asking questions,
    questions like, "Why doesn't my brand-new shrink-wrapped software package
    do what it's supposed to?" Or, "Why is my brand-new printer printing my
    term paper in Ancient Etruscan?" 
    Its a serious question. Why does software -- commercial software from
    legitimate manufacturers -- come with so many bugs in it? And why are
    there more every year? BugNet, a web site devoted to tracking bugs and
    finding their solutions, gives out an annual award to the software company
    that fixes the most bugs in its products. The 1997 award went to Adobe,
    maker of such popular programs as Acrobat and Photoshop, but BugNet
    announced this month that it will give no award for 1998. In the words of
    BugNet editor Bruce Brown, "the PC software industry's performance has
    been abysmal. Fact is, PCs -- and the software products that animate them
    -- don't work very well. The average American would never buy an electric
    razor, let alone a chain saw or a mountain bike, that was as buggy and
    unreliable as a PC." According to Brown, BugNets statistics indicate that
    the "bug fix rate" -- the percentage of reported bugs that actually get
    fixed -- has declined with every new release of Windows. 
    Its ironic but inevitable that the more ubiquitous computers become, the
    less reliable they are. The plague of bugs is "hardly surprising," Brown
    writes, "considering that PCs are being asked to perform ever more complex
    tasks in ever wider networked environments." President Clintons
    Information Technology Advisory Committee (bet you didnt know he had one),
    which includes the top executives and science officers for companies such
    as IBM, AT&T and Sun Microsystems, issued a report last August that came
    to the same conclusion:  "Even after large, expensive testing efforts,
    commercial software is shipped known to be riddled with errors ('bugs').
    Software producers rely on their users to discover the remaining errors in
    actual use, making it even more likely that our systems will crash." The
    report attributes the problem to "accelerated demand for software,
    increased complexity of systems, labor-intensity of development, variable
    quality in the labor pool, labor shortages, and lack of adequate science
    and technology to support robust development." 
    OK, everybody knows theres a problem. (If youre still not convinced, check
    out this Windows Magazine tech support survey, which showed that a
    horrific 13 percent of PCs fail straight out of the box.) What can we do
    about it? The Information Technology Advisory Committee report suggests
    that software companies and the government should both spend more on
    development and testing, and that they should work together to develop
    common standards and protocols, so that different software and hardware
    components can work together more smoothly. 
    BugNet is less optimistic. Brown points out that market pressures will
    always force companies to release their software as early as possible,
    with as little testing as they can get away with; and conversely, with the
    software market becoming less competitive, theres less pressure on
    manufacturers to produce a reliable product. And hey, if you ship a buggy
    application, you can always charge consumers more for an upgrade. If youre
    currently struggling with buggy software, you can report the problem to
    BugNet through its Report-A-Bug service. 
    And then theres this little thing called Y2K
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