Langa Letter: What's Bugging You?

An InformationWeek survey shines a bright light on software bugs and other quality issues.
Ever wonder what's the buggiest type of software overall? Have you ever wished you could band together with your fellow readers and make a loud public statement about the state of software quality? Have you ever wanted to reality-test your opinions about various software companies to see if your experience matches your cohorts'?

I'm embarrassed to say that the answers to all the above, and much more, have been at our fingertips for almost a month, but I missed 'em. There're on a large Web site that I visit almost every day. But, probably like you, I tend to frequent a few familiar portions of large sites, and thus sometimes miss some really good stuff going on in other parts.

In this case, I missed a large group of related surveys, articles, case studies, and research presentations focused on software quality, an issue that costs every one of us time and money. You may have to redo your work; spend time finding a workaround for the bug; or have to locate, download, and install a patch for the bug. Even then, you may not be done, because those patches often introduce new bugs into the mix, perpetuating the cycle. It's a mess.

Bugs, and software quality in general, are hot-button items for me, so when I heard of a "Rate Your Software Vendor" article, I clicked there posthaste. But when I got there, I found much more, a veritable gold mine on the state of software quality. Take a look:

Rate Your Software Vendor
This interesting online survey asks the simple, but loaded, question: "How satisfied are you with the overall quality of the software your vendors provide?" In just a minute or two you can click your way through the survey, recording your views of the quality of software sold by major vendors such as Adobe, Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Network Associates, Novell, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Symantec. (You can skip any companies you're unfamiliar with.) Once you've finished the survey, you'll then instantly see how your opinions stack up against all those who've previously taken the survey.

It can be eye-opening to see which companies rate the highest in terms of perceived quality and which rate the lowest. I won't spoil any surprises--see for yourself by clicking to the survey now. It's fast, free, fun, and informative!

What's The Buggiest Software?
The article called "Quality First" identifies the types of software that exhibit the most bugs and discusses some real-life examples of companies that have been harmed by buggy software.

The actual bug list is about halfway down the above page and offers a statistical look at how common bugs are in 18 major software categories, including operating systems, desktop productivity software, E-mail clients, and antivirus software.

A related item called "Learning To Live With Bugs" looks at how some corporate customers cope with the bugs that plague us all, but also has an amazing pie chart near the end that shows one of the reasons software quality is such a fuzzy issue: Even software professionals can't agree on whether software is a product, a service, or both. If we can't even agree on fundamental definitions, how on earth can we agree on appropriate solutions to software-quality issues?

Software Quality Quiz And Resources
If you produce software, modify or adapt commercial software to your own purposes, or work in a company that uses custom software, the "Software Quality Quiz" may help you see if you're doing all you can to ensure that the result is as good as it can be. After you take the short quiz, you can see how your answers stack up against those from some 800 business-technology professionals surveyed in InformationWeek's Software Quality research. Interesting stuff, especially if you or your company rely on seat-of-the-pants approaches to software quality.

Similarly, if you're responsible for producing, approving, or qualifying software, check out "The Case For Results-Based Software Management". It offers an interesting way to look at software management in terms of "software economics" rather than the more familiar "software construction" or "software engineering."

Finally, "In Search Of ... Software Quality" is a metapage that links you to a variety of resources--organizations, software testing tools, academic resources, methodologies, and Weblogs--all relating to software quality.

Your Input Wanted
After checking out the above, please join in the discussion: What do you rely on to gauge software quality? (Word of mouth? Benchmarks? Formal reviews by testing labs?) Do you do any formal testing or benchmarking yourself, or do you just dive in and see what a new piece of software has to offer? Do you think software quality has improved, declined, or stayed about the same over the last few years? Who produces the best software these days--and who churns out the worst? Join in!