Business & Finance
04:17 PM
Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
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Editor's Note: Poor-Quality Software Needs Zero Tolerance

It's mid-January and I finally had a chance last weekend to set up the new home computer that Santa Claus brought for my nearly 3-year-old. We've been building up the excitement for weeks, and she couldn't wait to start playing around with it. Finally, we got everything in order--connected the monitor, the speakers, the mouse, and just when we were ready to pop in the Green Eggs And Ham CD, we got an error message. In my haste to get things set up, I figured I just made a stupid mistake, so I went back to troubleshoot. After about an hour of that, I realized it was something beyond my PC know-how. I won't bore you with all of the details, but a call to tech support revealed a bug in the software was causing the problem. Not a big deal to fix, really, but an annoyance nonetheless.

Business-technology managers are faced with such annoyances, and worse, every day. I'm not just talking about a performance glitch that causes users to reboot their system or an administrator to send out a patch, but also serious security flaws. Carnegie Mellon's CERT Coordination Center says the number of software bugs, holes, and patches reported last year more than doubled to nearly 2,500.

Why, in an industry that's full of innovation, bright minds, competitive spirit, and an intense desire to improve customer relationships, are the problems going up, not down? In this week's cover story by senior editor George V. Hulme, you'll find that there are many reasons. Some of them are cultural: Software companies rely on the testing phase of an application to isolate bugs. Better care to prevent them should be taken in the programming phase, experts say. Sometimes it's a question of speed: Software companies want to get their products to market fast. Sometimes it's about features: Developers spend more time on new, cool features rather than concentrating on existing features.

Have IT managers and users become so accustomed to software bugs that our level of tolerance has gone up? Consider this reader's response to Bob Evans' recent column on teen-agers ("Perspectives On Youth"). "I still read manuals when I get new software. My daughter just experiments, tries things, and if one thing doesn't work she tries another. If she can't figure it out intuitively, she walks away and picks up another application to use." Unless software becomes easier to use, higher quality, and more reliable all around, perhaps that's an attitude we should all take.

Stephanie Stahl

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