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Software: Use At Your Own Risk

Chuck Allison’s interesting article “Software: Use At Your Own Risk”, (Better Software Magazine, July/August 2008, p. 9) discusses the risk inherent in software licenses compared to other warranties, reasons for the lack of quality in software and lists a sample of the code of ethics of the Association of Computer Machinery.

Here are some reasons why I believe that the Government will not take effective measures to enforce more liability on software vendors in the short or long term (within the next 10 years).

1. Consumers are instant gratification junkies. Consumers want things ‘now’ and are only mildly disappointed when they have small failings, so they do not officially complain so much as in other industries. We only have to look at the lines outside Apple Stores for the new iPhone to realize this. Many people were not even concerned that some phones had activation issues, as they understood that Apple would eventually fix this.

2. No physical boundaries. License issues will differ in different countries and trying to enforce this will be an administrative and legal nightmare. Also, software can be downloaded from the Internet from anywhere. Even the attempted Chinese firewall was worked around within a day

3. It is understood that software is never defect free. Maybe this is not the right attitude, however it is one we have ingrained into ourselves over the last 20 years as both users and developers. Microsoft’s famous Blue Screen of Death was frustrating for developers, but after a quick reboot, work continued – it was accepted (I say “accepted” as it was the most common OS used and there was no mass exodus to UNIX, or later Linux). Would the same attitude apply if your car broke down several times on your way to work?

4. Software organizations do not learn. Many articles quote from references such as Brook’s ‘Mythical Man Month’. This book was written 30 years ago and many of the failings in Software Development back then still exist today. For example adding people to late running projects only makes them later.

5. Perceived insignificant importance. We know the cost of failed software is in the billions, but other things in the public eye have happened to constantly keep this from being a primary concern. For example, The Gulf War, 9/11, Presidential elections, rising fuel prices and the current Fannie & Freddie crisis. Although software is involved everywhere the quality is not considered a public priority.

One of the ethics Allison lists is “Contribute to society and human well-being”. Unfortunately, for Governments to pass legislation of the sort suggested by Allison, a monumental catastrophe will have to happen. We saw something along these lines with the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance following the Enron scandal. However, even if a plane were to crash due to software error, it is unlikely that even loss of life would be enough for the Government to pursue measures. In my opinion, the outcome would be that the airline and the manufacturer would have lawsuits filed against them, while the FAA and software producer would, at best, experience some bad press.

Read the original blog entry...

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