Michael Gurstein on Tue, 23 May 2000 17:35:44 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] Fw: Another Detroit in the Making?

----- Original Message -----
From: Toby Donaldson <donaldson@techbc.ca>
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2000 9:24 PM
Subject: Another Detroit in the Making?

> The U.S. Software Industry and Software Quality: Another Detroit in the
> Making?
> by Bryan Pfaffenberger <bp@virginia.edu>
> 3-May-2000
> Will software makers follow the U.S. auto industry of old down the road of
> glitzware?
> "The reason we come up with new versions is not to fix bugs. It's
> not. It's the stupidest reason to buy a new version that I've ever
> And so, in so sense, is [software] stability a reason to move to a new
> version. It's never a reason. You won't get a single person to say they'd
> buy a new version because of bugs."
> --Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, in an interview with reporter
> Klaus Brunnstein (Focus, November 1995)
> Do computer users care about quality? Linux advocates hope so, because
> unquestionably the case that open-source development methods are capable
> producing some very fine software indeed. As open-source guru Eric Raymond
> points out, the nature of open-source development o such as the wide-open
> availability of the underlying source code, the ongoing testing of code in
> real-world settings, the frequent release cycles o can produce code that's
> remarkably free from programming errors. The sheer number of developers
> helps, too; as Linus Torvalds puts it, "With enough eyeballs, all bugs are
> shallow."
> To be sure, not every program developed with open-source methods is as
> beautifully crafted as the Linux kernel, but there's no disputing the fact
> that open-source development can indeed produce software of exceptional
> quality. If quality matters, Linux ought to have an edge over its
> competitors. According to one estimate by a Microsoft internal (see Minasi
> 2000:255), the firm's products typically contain an average of 14 to 17
> errors per 1,000 lines of code o a level of quality that can be described
> mediocre. But people keep buying Microsoft products. Vendor executives,
> Microsoft's among them, look at their profits and ask why they should
> improving their firms' software. Sure, they admit, it's possible to
> software of space-shuttle quality, but doing so is very expensive. Maybe
> that level of quality is needed in life-critical systems, such as medical
> software, but who needs a quality word processor? Consumers don't care,
> conclude, and so they keep putting out products that are "good enough".
> They're wrong. Dead wrong. Consumers have been putting up with bug-ridden
> software for one simple reason: They don't realize there is an
> And once they find out, commercial software vendors are going to lose a
> slice of their business. Where's my evidence for this claim? History. I'm
> sure you've heard the famous Santayana quote: "Those who do not remember
> past are condemned to repeat it." (No, that's not a typo; it's Santayana
> philosopher, not Santana the guitarist.) If you're looking for an example,
> I've got a doozy for you. According to Mark Minasi, author of a very fine
> book entitled The Software Conspiracy (McGraw-Hill, 2000), the U.S.
> commercial software industry is making exactly the same mistake that U.S.
> auto makers once made, and the results could prove catastrophic to the
> economy.
> Then: Fins and Features (But Underneath, It's Junk)
> Flash back to the 1950s, and take a look at the average new car produced
> one of Detroit's "Big Three" auto makers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler). You'd
> lots of cool features: big, gutsy V-8 engines, flashy chrome bumpers, and
> (in 1957, anyway) fins that made the cars look like low-flying rockets.
> If you owned one of these monsters, though, you'd discover another,
> less-appealing characteristic: shoddiness. The cars were riddled with
> defects and needed frequent repairs. They weren't safe, either, and they
> were murder on the environment. Instead of improving their products and
> making them safer and less polluting, the Big Three auto makers went to
> on the politicians. They did everything they could to ward off legislation
> to give consumers protections against lemons. They opposed air bags. They
> tried to fight off pollution standards. In today's markedly more corrupt
> political environment, they probably would have succeeded.
> They also went to work on consumers. Money that could have gone into
> improving their products, as well as making them safer and less polluting,
> went into advertising and marketing instead. The goal? Get consumers back
> into the showroom every two or three years to buy a new car with new,
> up-to-date styling. Under the hood, of course, they got the same old junk.
> Call it shortsightedness, if you'd like, or just plain greed, but the Big
> Three auto makers couldn't see a financial incentive for improving their
> products. So they didn't. They knew the cars were junk. They knew they
> unsafe. Sure, every once in a while, they had little twinges of conscience
> such as when an auto executive's kid was killed in a fiery crash, one that
> could been prevented had the company paid more attention to safety. They
> felt terrible for a few days. (You can read the whole, sick story in J.
> Patrick Wright's On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, published in
> 1979.) But all such concerns were sacrificed to the Bottom Line. When
> challenged to defend their low-quality cars, the auto makers complained
> the cost of building quality automobiles was simply too high; it could be
> done, but you'd pay at least half again as much for that shiny new Chevy.
> Consumers were content with the low quality/low price tradeoff, the auto
> makers believed. Consumers are buying the cars, they pointed out. The auto
> makers were raking in fabulous profits, and making a fantastic
> to the economy.
> In fact, consumers weren't content with the cars (or the dealers, but
> another story). Still, complaining didn't get them anywhere, and for one
> simple reason: there wasn't any competition. If U.S. cars were shoddy,
> looked like the space shuttle next to British cars, which (lamentably)
> lacked the capital to do anything about their endemic quality problems.
> Sure, there were some little Japanese companies that were making
> funny-looking, inexpensive cars, but these companies weren't a threat to
> Detroit, the auto makers believed. Japanese car makers didn't know
> about marketing and style, and that's what sells cars in the U.S.
> You probably know the rest of the story. For years, U.S. industrial
> guru W. Edwards Deming tried to convince Detroit that it was possible to
> make high-quality products, and in addition, it's not much more expensive
> do so, as long as you design the quality into the product at the beginning
> of production instead of trying to fix the problems at the end. But
> Demming's words fell on deaf ears o except in Japan.
> Japanese car makers took Demming's teachings to heart, and they started
> making some exceptionally fine automobiles. What's more, they were cheap.
> The result? Japanese auto makers grabbed nearly a third of the U.S. market
> and most of the international market. As a result, thanks to mounting
> Japanese automobile exports and the collapse of the U.S. auto industry
> overseas, the U.S. was plunged into the ranks of the world's debtor
> Detroit's story should be clearly understood by everyone who wishes to
> the significance of shortsighted, bottom-line thinking in corporations
> besotted by too much testosterone. Sure, you make money. In reality,
> you're doing so only by mortgaging your country's future. You're pushing
> laws that, if passed, would have rolled consumer and environmental
> protection back to the Dark Ages. You're creating lasting ill will in a
> market that despises your products, and looks desperately for an
> alternative. And if you fail to keep your competitors out of the market,
> go down o and you take a huge slice of the economy with you. But who
> Your kids and grandkids will pay, not you.
> Now: Featuritus o and Bugs Galore
> Today's commercial software packages have much in common with shoddy U.S.
> automobiles of the 1950s and 1960s, according to the software industry's
> critics. It's basically the same formula: put out shoddy products, and use
> high-pressure marketing to keep consumers focused on new software versions
> that offer glitzy new features. In reality, you're hoodwinking people into
> buying the same defective product over and over again, but hey o you make
> tons of money. And who cares about quality, anyway? Sure, industry
> executives concede, we could reduce the number of bugs in our products,
> say, but only by raising the price of our products by 50 percent or more o
> and consumers won't stand for it. Quality? We'll give you "good enough"
> quality, and that's all you're going to get.
> It's incredibly cavalier of these companies to say that quality isn't
> in products such as word processors, spreadsheet programs and the rest.
> People have lost jobs, flunked classes, and contemplated jumping off
> after software glitches destroyed work that was critical to them. And
> very same products are finding their way into virtually every aspect of
> life, including situations in which human life and limb could very well be
> at stake if the e-mail doesn't get through. Shoddy, bug-ridden software
> isn't safe to use under any condition, and these companies know it. My
> evidence? Instead of improving their products, commercial software vendors
> are busily trying to rewrite U.S. and international law to shield
> from the consequences of their corporate negligence. In the U.S.,
> has taken the lead in pushing for the passage of UCITA, a state-level
> legislative act that has been opposed by every consumer rights
> that has ever examined the issue, as well as by 23 U.S. Attorneys General
> and computing professional organizations, who correctly describe the
> legislation as a major setback not only for consumers, but also for public
> safety.
> Sounds like the Detroit game all over again, doesn't it? But wait: there's
> more. Inspired by Demming's writings, software development expert Watts
> Humphrey o an ex-IBM executive who is now affiliated with Carnegie-Mellon
> University's Software Engineering Institute (SEI) o developed a version of
> Demming's work for the software industry. And guess what? U.S. software
> vendors aren't listening to Humphrey. One reason they're not listening is
> that they're too busy jeering Humphrey and ridiculing his work, which is
> exactly what U.S. auto-industry executives did to Demming in the 1950s.
> (Demming eventually gave up and moved to Japan.)
> What's Humphrey saying? It's simple: software companies can make
> high-quality products, and what's more, doing so isn't expensive.
> work has evolved into the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), which shows
> software developers how to build quality in from the get-go. It also
> provides a way of ranking a company's commitment to quality. At Level 1,
> companies aren't doing much of anything about quality. At Level 5, they're
> up to the Toyota level: they're building quality consciousness into
> everything they do, and they're constantly refining and improving their
> processes.
> What's more, CMM works. Using CMM-like methods, telecommunications giant
> West Technologies was able to reduce service outages by 79 percent, slice
> billing costs by $30 million, and reduce service order errors by 50
> There's an upfront investment required, to be sure, but it pays off in the
> long run. In 1990, the cost of ensuring quality at Raytheon Electronics
> Systems ate up nearly two-thirds of all software development costs. Thanks
> to CMM, Raytheon is putting out even better software, but the cost of
> assuring this quality has fallen below 10 percent of software development
> budgets. And what about bugs? Based in Chennai, India, a contract software
> developer called Advanced Information Services (IAS) o one of the few CMM
> Level 5 companies in existence o is cranking out code with only 0.05
> per thousand lines of code. That's better than the space shuttle's
> This level of achievement isn't putting IAS out of business o far from it:
> their profits have doubled. On average, companies that adopt CMM realize a
> fivefold return on their investment.
> Who's listening to Humphrey? CMM critics affiliated with Microsoft charge
> that CMM creates an unwieldy bureaucracy that forestalls the kind of
> brilliant innovation that's leading the software industry. Give me a
> If Microsoft supposedly exemplifies the type of organization that would be
> "paralyzed" by CMM to the point that it couldn't innovate, we might all be
> much better off. As near as I can tell, the lion's share of Microsoft
> products that could be termed "innovative" in some sense o MS-DOS,
> FrontPage and others o either originated outside the company, were based
> ideas that were developed outside the company, or were acquired by
> purchasing an outside company. Microsoft's innovations seem limited to
> figuring out new ways of introducing dysfunctional extensions to
> standards for no other reason than the firm's desire to put its
> out of business.
> So who is listening? As of this writing, only 19 software companies are
> certified at Level 5, and 13 of them are in India. That's right: India. If
> you think India is a backward country that couldn't possibly compete in
> high-tech sweepstakes, you'd better think again, because Indian software
> companies are putting out some of the best software in the world. Near
> Bangalore, India, a CMM-driven, Level 5 shop is turning out software with
> 0.03 defects per thousand lines of code. Right now in India, there's a
> replay of exactly the same process that energized the Japanese automobile
> industry thirty years ago. They see the opportunity. They have the talent.
> They know they can create world-class software. They're doing it right
> When asked whether Indian software firms pose a threat to their near
> stranglehold on the consumer software market, U.S. software executives
> laugh. They point out that these silly foreign companies don't know
> about style or marketing; there's no way they could make it in the U.S.
> market. Now where have we heard that before?
> What Can You Do?
> First, buy ten copies of Mark Minasi's exceptionally fine book, The
> Conspiracy: Why Software Companies Put Out Faulty Products, How They Can
> Hurt You, and What You Can Do About It (McGraw-Hill, 2000) and give a copy
> to everyone you know who's in a position to influence software purchasing
> decisions. Mail them a copy of this article, too. My major criticism of
> Mark's book is that he doesn't weave open-source software in general, and
> Linux in particular, into the picture. I believe Linux is exposing the
> and the thirst for high-quality software, and that the high quality of
> and other open-source programs is in large measure responsible for its
> growth and acceptance.
> Second, get the word out about UCITA. Visit http://www.badsoftware.com and
> the Consumer Project on Technology home page (http://www.cptech.org). If
> you're in a U.S. state where UCITA next comes up for ratification,
> street protests, write letters to legislators, get the word out, and fight
> it! There's still time to defeat this monster, but we have got to get
> organized NOW!
> Third, join the battle to promote software engineering, high-quality
> software, and responsible behavior by software vendors. Read Watts
> Humphrey's comments on software quality at
> http://www.2bguide.com/docs/whsq.html and then visit the Software
> Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie-Mellon University, with which
> Humphreys is affiliated.
> Fourth, convince any organization with which you are affiliated o your
> school, your company, the non-profit organizations where you volunteer o
> that purchasing commercial vendors' products is aiding and abetting a
> process that is exposing the public to unwarranted risk, generating
> legislation that is harmful to public welfare, and retarding the progress
> technology. Show them Linux, help them install it, and invite them to
> consider what people are slowly but surely learning: you don't have to put
> up with shoddy software.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----
> Bryan Pfaffenberger is a professor in the new Media Studies program at the
> University of Virginia, where he will teach two courses next fall (Media
> Studies 317: Intellectual Property and Digital Media, and Media Studies
> Information Technology and Digital Media). He lives in Charlottesville,
> Virginia.
> Copyright 2000 Specialized Systems Consultants, Inc.

Nettime-bold mailing list