Broad PC Software Bug Performance
Is Unacceptable, And Getting
BugNet Declines To Bestow Its
Annual Award For 1998
THE first time since 1994, the editors of BugNet
have decided NOT to present an Annual Award for the
year's best bug fix performance.
We have tabulated the bug fix records
of the major PC software vendors as usual, but we are not
going to give out an award for 1998 because, frankly, the
PC software industry's performance has been abysmal.
Fact is, PCs -- and the software
products that animate them -- don't work very well. The
average American would never buy an electric razor, let
alone a chain saw or a mountain bike -- that was as buggy
and unreliable as a PC.
And the PC bug problem is getting
worse. BugNet's data indicates that bug fix rates have
declined with every new mass market version of Windows.
The bug fix rate for Windows 3.x (OS and apps) was/is
higher than for Windows 95, and Windows 95's bug/fix rate
was/is higher than Windows 98.
In other words, in a broad sense across
the industry, a lower percentage of bugs are being fixed
with each new generation of Windows.
NUMBERS ALONE don't tell the whole story. To get
a real idea of how deep the PC industry's bug problem has
become, you need to talk to ordinary people like Tobin
Kueper, Howard Perry and Jann Cystinuria.
During 1998, BugNet received a virtual
mountain of e-mails, letters and phone calls from people
-- like Tobin, Howard, and Jann -- who paid thousands of
dollars for PC hardware and software, only to discover
that the devices wouldn't run right, except with great
effort and an equal amount of luck.
These people aren't stupid, and many of
them aren't PC newbies either. They're just unlucky, and
for their trouble they have been made to feel like idiots
and essentially left to perish in the tech support
So they come like sufferers to Lourdes
in an endless river of sorrow. They are all seeking some
sort of helpful tech support, but many have reached the
point of despair where they would just settle for someone
who will listen to them.
And that, Dear Reader, is getting
harder and harder to find in this Brave New World of
Zeros and Ones. Tobin couldn't install a new Maxtor
"Bigflop" hard drive on his boss's daughter's
Compaq Presario, and no one -- not Compaq, not Maxtor,
not Microsoft -- would offer any useful help.
Howard found a bug in AutoCAD 14
running under Windows 95 and Windows 98 that can prevent
it from updating the date/time stamp on drawings, but
neither AutoDesk nor Microsoft was the least concerned
that their products did not perform as advertised. They
would not provide a fix or even a work-around.
Jann found that she
couldn't install her nearly new copy of Corel Quattro Pro
7 on her new Windows 95 PC
because the PC came with Microsoft Internet Explorer 4
pre-installed on it. Jann couldn't get any useful help
from either Microsoft or Corel, apparently because they
hoped she would either buy a new copy of Microsoft Excel,
or pay for an upgrade to the newest version of Quattro,
which doesn't suffer from the problem.
AND EVEN IF the PC
software sufferer is lucky enough to actually get through
to quality, second or third-tier tech support personnel,
their problems may not be over.
We at BugNet encountered a very strange
problem early this year in our web-based bug forum,
BugNet Buzz, which was at the time one of the most
heavily trafficked FrontPage discussion webs on the
As soon as one of our Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) upgraded to Microsoft FrontPage 98
extensions, the Buzz Table of Contents would
spontaneously delete itself every few days. This meant
that Buzz was totally toast as a threaded discussion
group, since there was no way for people to see what the
Fortunately (we thought), we were able
to obtain relatively high level help from Microsoft.
Microsoft's heavy thinkers took a lot of BugNet's time
and the time of our ISP gathering data on the problem,
but after a month of study they came back with word they
couldn't figure it out. Sorry, next please.
BugNet eventually had to close Buzz,
but it was no concern to Microsoft that its product did
not perform as advertised, or that the aforementioned
failure had cost us a significant portion of our
business. They simply went straight ahead selling
FrontPage 98 on the promise that it would allow users to
create stable threaded discussion groups.
Later in the summer, when FrontPage 98
began to take on a certain ill odor in the press,
Microsoft used a TINY fraction of the profits gained in
this manner to pay for reports -- which were leaked to
the press -- purportedly showing that FrontPage 98 was
the least buggy version of FrontPage ever.
Of course, to make real sense out of
these reports you had to know that Microsoft has a very
odd sense of what is -- and what isn't -- a bug. Earlier
this year, BugNet discovered a bug in FrontPage which allowed the users to delete his entire
hard drive -- including Windows itself -- without a clear
This was the single most destructive
bug we've ever encountered -- an application CLEARLY
can't be allowed to delete the OS it is running under --
but Microsoft's response was that this was a feature, not
COULD GO on with thousands of similar examples
like this from the last year, but the point is that we
are in the midst of a PC quality/support crisis.
Users know this very well, but the
industry really hasn't gotten the word yet, despite
"Windows dressing" initiatives like the one
announced by Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer this summer.
At a time when PC bug and compatibility
issues are becoming ever more important, the PC software
industry is actually putting its efforts into cutting
tech support and further decreasing inherent value to the
We now have vendors charging the user
for virtually any reasonable tech support call (Iomega),
vendors charging for bug fixes (Lotus), and vendors
charging for virus updates (Norton).
Meanwhile, all the major vendors are
aggressively pursuing the chimera of automated tech
support, despite the fact that it's not what users need
This is an industry that has gotten in
the habit of shaving the value it provides its customers,
and then humiliating them when they complain.
This isn't good. In fact, it must
Time to try harder, guys, and better
luck in 1999.
-- Bruce Brown
BugNet Editor & Publisher
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