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19 March 1999

Normally your daily news links are interesting and informative; that's why I check your site regularly. But the Max Eskin piece you linked to today is quite simply uninformed drivel. His heart may be in the right place but It is very obvious that he has no experience in the commercial software development business, and based on some of the comments he made, his technical knowledge is highly suspect too.

One example will suffice. Study the PDP-8 instruction set as an example of a simple processor? Is this guy joking? Does he actually know the PDP-8 instruction set, or any other processors for that matter? If he did he would know that the PDP-8 had a really screwed up instruction set, and a very odd architecture. I should know. My very first hack was modifying a PDP-8 machine code binary loader to duplicate paper tapes.

The reason commercial software is crappy has nothing to do with university comp sci courses, although it might help if they spent less time on the intellectually interesting theoretical stuff which is almost useless in the real world, and more time on the boring stuff like debugging skills and development process discipline.

On average it takes two years of real world experience before the average comp sci grad can be trusted to write code that will work without too many headaches. For comparison, it only takes around one year for the average programming literate non-comp sci grad to produce trustworthy code. This conclusion is based on 16 years commercial shrink-wrap experience, 12 years as a lead programmer type. And dont ever ask me about comp-sci PhD's...

The real reason for crappy software is that there is currently no legal regulation for the quality of computer software. Until the government starts regulating and imposing legal penalties for low quality in software, just like in any other consumer product, software will continue to be crappy.

Until then the pattern of the last twenty years of the PC software business will continue, crappy low quality software will drive out high quality stable software. This is because software companies are selling in what is termed in economics an uninformed market. So every dollar invested in product quality by a producer is a dollar wasted, and every dollar spent in locking up distribution channels is a dollar well spent.

That's why the average software company spends $3 on marketing for every $1 in spends on product development. Locking up the channels is job 1, producing a quality product is job...whatever.

Roll on the product liability law-suits, that's what I say.

- Joseph McConnell

jmcconel@slip.net

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