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Microsoft now serious about bugs, says Ballmer

Missive to the masses only 20 years late
Thu Oct 03 2002, 12:46
LET'S ACKNOWLEDGE A SAD TRUTH, about software," writes Steve Ballmer. "Any code of significant scope and power will have bugs in it. Even a relatively simple software product today has millions of lines of code that provide many places for bugs to hide."

The Microsoft CEO says that's why Microsoft customers still encounter bugs "despite the rigorous and extensive stress testing and beta testing we do."

"With Windows 2000 and Windows XP, we dramatically improved the stability and reliability of our platform, and we eliminated many flaws, but we did not find all the bugs in these or other products. Nor did we find all the software conflicts that can cause applications to freeze up or otherwise fail to perform as expected."

You'll notice in the above the word ‘today', in Ballmer's defence of buggy software: "Even a relatively simple software product today has millions of lines of code that provide many places for bugs to hide," he says, and I reiterate.

Now, Microsoft has been writing code for nearly 30 years. And for many of those years it shoved code out the door unworried about the bugs that may be lurking in it. The name of the game, as a young aggressive company, was to get ahead and stay ahead of the competition by delivering innovative new products and quick.

In the old days, a bug was something that caused your machine to crash. There were plenty of them and you rebooted regularly when faced with the now legendary Blue Screen of Death.

These days, the bugs aren't necessarily of a ‘don't work' variety. In today's connected world, the bugs are those that leave you exposed to wiley hackers on the Internet. And you won't know about these bugs until Microsoft tells you you might have one and that any old Tom Dick or Hacker could be fiddling about with your machine thanks to the hole Microsoft left in its software.

Microsoft says it puts its customers first. In fact, it argues that it charges those customers high prices for its software so that it has more money to invest in the next generation of its products, so that its customers get better products in the future too.

But it's the customer who has put up with this buggy software for years and it seems that its only when security becomes a big priority and the constant reports of bugs in Windows "operating systems" start to cause bad PR that Microsoft starts seriously addressing the issue.

We learned from a Microsoft employee last week that producing code with holes in can now be a sacking offence at Vole HQ. We also learn from Ballmer in his missive to interested parties that Microsoft wants to broaden its dialogue with its customers to glean feedback on any problems with its software or, for that matter, any software running on its platforms.

Ballmer says he learned the importance of knowing your customer well from his only previous job - marketing brownie and blueberry muffin mix for a consumer products company.

We simply ask, why, when this lesson was learned a quarter of a century ago, has it taken so long for the company to wake up to the idea?

As one reader writes today: "We are tired of Microsoft security problems and the costs associated, and are evaluating Mozilla as a browser and a mail client, and are seriously thinking about a migration.

"For cost concerns, we are also evaluating openoffice.. and if we rely only on multi-platform software even an OS change could be possible…"

Here's a clue then. Shipping buggy software is finally threatening revenue.

We have no doubt Microsoft is serious about seeking out and fixing the bugs in its software and the daily bug-fix update is testament to that. We just think they might have taken their responsibility to their customers more seriously some time ago. µ

 

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