Tuesday, June 18, 2002

There's an interesting piece by Charles Mann in Technology Review about why software is so bad. Unlike other industries, where companies with knowingly-flawed products can face massive legal action, people basically accept poor software as a fact of life. Mann thinks more lawyers may be the answer:
As software becomes increasingly important, the potential impact of bad code will increase to match, in the view of Peter G. Neumann, a computer scientist at SRI International, a private R&D center in Menlo Park, CA. In the last 15 years alone, software defects have wrecked a European satellite launch, delayed the opening of the hugely expensive Denver airport for a year, destroyed a NASA Mars mission, killed four marines in a helicopter crash, induced a U.S. Navy ship to destroy a civilian airliner, and shut down ambulance systems in London, leading to as many as 30 deaths. And because of our growing dependence on the Net, Neumann says, “We’re much worse off than we were five years ago. The risks are worse and the defenses are not as good. We’re going backwards—and that’s a scary thing.”

Some software companies are responding to these criticisms by revamping their procedures; Microsoft, stung by charges that its products are buggy, is publicly leading the way. Yet problems with software quality have endured so long, and seem so intractably embedded in software culture, that some coders are beginning to think the unthinkable. To their own amazement, these people have found themselves wondering if the real problem with software is that not enough lawyers are involved.

No comments: