Why Do We Put Up With
The Bugs In Software?
Theres a great scene in “The Wizard of Oz” in which the much feared and revered Wizard is caught with his regal trousers around his ankles.
Its the scene in which Dorothy and crew–having bravely battled witches and winged monkeys–stand before the Wizard seeking their individual rewards, i.e., heart, brain, courage and Dorothys ticket back to Kansas.
The Wizard, behind a series of spectacularly intimidating special effects, tells the battlers to be gone, despite their heartfelt pleas. While the pyrotechnics are proceeding, however, Toto (obviously the one who really had a brain) runs forward and pulls aside a curtain to reveal an old gentleman pushing buttons, pulling levers and speaking the Wizards words through a microphone.
Seeing that his ruse is discovered, the man speaks these final Wizardly words into the mike: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
Alas, the jig is up for the Wizard, and our heroes and heroine have been duped, but the story doesnt end there. Instead, the nice old lever-puller dispenses some tired aphorisms that seem to satisfy everyone except Dorothy, who will still need a “good” witch and some magic shoes to make her trip home.
Heres what I could never understand, though. How did the Wizard get away with that, uh, bullstuff? Personally, I was waiting for the Tin Man to teach him a hard lesson with the butt end of that axe–or maybe for the Cowardly Lion to rip a nice chunk out of the old shysters keester. But no, our battlers not only walk away without anger, they actually like and respect this lovable fraud, despite the fact that he has repeatedly put their lives in danger.
And you know, its a bit like that with software companies, too.
We reported last week that a Department of Commerce study found that software bugs–errors in programming that are part of just about every software application out there–are costing U.S. businesses nearly $60 billion annually.
According to the authors of that report, software buyers are simply willing to put up with more “errors” than, say, automobile buyers would be. Every year, vendors produce, and companies buy, software products that will have bugs, but everyone seems to take that in stride. Why is that? How do software vendors get away with that bullstuff?
First, its important to realize that when you buy software you are actually buying millions of lines of computer programming, known to the tech community as “code.” This code contains millions of instructions that are given to your computer and peripherals in order to produce what you experience as a functioning program.
Code, of course, is highly technical and not easy to write. Thats why, even in this quiescent economy, skilled programmers can still make a very good living.
In any case, if a programmer slips up on writing a few lines of code here and there, you probably think thats not so bad. After all, you reason, nobodys perfect.
The problem is that while many of these slipups are harmless, some of them have the potential to affect not only the functionality of the program in use, but the viability of other programs, and even of your entire operating system. Such errors–those that result in systems shutdown, loss of data, or need for significant systems reconfiguration–are heavily implicated in the billions of dollars in losses cited by the Department of Commerce study.