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Go to the website of software testing company SQS and one of the first things you'll see is an interesting question concerning all Windows-based environments: "Eighty per cent of your applications will work with Vista, but do you know which 80 per cent?"

It does rather neatly sum up one of the key issues about software testing: users can bump into the need for it just about anywhere.

The trouble is, while lots of user organisations accept the theory behind the need to carry out testing, the practical upshot is that many don't seem to actually do it. This is one of the results to emerge from an independent study the company has recently sponsored. It was undertaken by Coleman Parkes Research in November and December last year, covering 250 organisations across England, Ireland and South Africa.

Evidence that user companies are not practicing what they might preach comes through clearly. More than three quarters of them (77 per cent) claim that testing is an essential investment when deploying new technology, yet 55 per cent admit they are not consistent about software testing, and only 31 per cent always have a separate testing budget. In fact, nearly half of the companies surveyed never set aside budget for testing as part of the development process.

Despite the evidence that testing is already the poor relation in software development, its chances of improvement seem remote, if the survey is any guide. For example, the survey also shows that 37 per cent of users complain at the cost of testing, even though some of them are not even doing it. One statistic in particular demonstrates that the depth of knowledge about testing amongst users is also arguably lower than it should be. Over 40 per cent of the survey reported that they find it difficult to know when they have done enough testing.

There is, of course, a pay-off line to the survey. Around 75 per cent of them reported wanting the ability to scale their testing resources to meet fluctuating demands, and when it got to issues such as the use of best-practice testing techniques and the availability of business or system knowledge in a testing environment then the vast majority thought these a "good thing". SQS will no doubt be pleased see such a result as it is an independent software testing and quality management house.

That blatant vested interest does not, however, invalidate the evidence that there is a pretty poor appreciation of the value of software testing, which may mean a short-term cost saving, but can also mean a long-term hole into which users can all too easily jump. ®

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