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Buggy software on the rise

Enough bug fixes - more pre-release testing, please

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Symantec has just released an anti-spam tool called Norton AntiSpam 2004. It filters unwanted email out of your inbox by detecting and flagging unsolicited messages while promptly delivering valid mail. At least, that is what the programmers had in mind.

Regrettably, the application isn't fully compatible with Outlook Express 6, the most used email program in the world. Outlook Express crashes when you click the 'This is Spam' button, according to users.

"Symantec is investigating this problem," a note reads on its website. "The cause is unknown, and there is no solution at this time."

It makes you wonder how thoroughly programmers test their software these days. Buggy software seems to be on the rise.

Just last week Apple quietly pulled its Mac OS X 10.2.8 update from circulation after some Mac users complained that their Ethernet connectivity was deactivated following the installation.

Sure, the problem seemed mainly isolated to certain Power Mac G4 models, but why wasn't it tested on these machines in the first place? The Ethernet bug is not the only issue, (MacFixIt reported many other problems too).

Some argue that any OS that is constantly in a state of flux (like Windows) is very hard to write software for. But programmers seem to think that fixing problems these days is easy. Simply release another update or patch. This way, you can continue developing. However, many fixes seem to cause problems themselves.

Other issues are caused by software companies rushing to sell applications before working out all the bugs. Many Oracle customers encountered glitches when the software giant released a new set of business applications two years ago.

Well, enough is enough. Computerworld in Australia last week reported that Australia's exporters are in wholesale revolt over plans by the Australian Customs Service to push a version of its Integrated Cargo System software that is so untested and bug-ridden that it is almost inoperable.

And it is not just exporters who are complaining. Software bugs are costing the US economy alone an estimated $59.5 billion each year, according to a federal study.

Can anything be done about it? Consumer advocates think so. They argue that licenses which protect software developers from liability should be banned so that users or small businesses (bigger companies and governments seem to be protected more effectively through service level agreements) can hold software makers at least partially liable for product shortcomings.

"It's crazy that Firestone can produce a tire with a systemic flaw and they're liable, whereas Microsoft produces an operating system with two systematic flaws per week and they're not liable," Bruce Schneier, CTO at Counterpane Internet Security Inc., complained to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently.

Sue Microsoft? Well, we don't see it happen immediately, but disgruntling customers may soon turn the tide. ®

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