Preventive Pesticides for Your PC

Software flaws and incompatibilities affect all businesses, but small companies suffer most. "They don't have big service contracts or law firms, so they don't have leverage," says BugNet President Bruce Brown. "And they don't have IT departments either."

With that in mind, BugNet and BUSINESS WEEK offer some tips to help entrepreneurs keep the little buggers at bay.

Version 1.0? No Thanks "New and improved" may be fine for soap, but not for software. Too many initial releases and upgrades are forced onto the market before they're fully tested. In fact, savvy buyers have become so wary that software publishers are moving away from easy-to-understand numerical sequences. Windows NT 5.0, for example, will be sold as Windows 2000.

Beware of the Buggy Fix Any modification to your system can bring bugs out of the woodwork. Even patches -- small bits of programming intended to fix bugs -- can contain more bugs. So don't do it casually: Before you install new programs or drivers, make sure you know what clear, specific benefit to expect. Even a program that runs flawlessly by itself may be incompatible with other programs, and seeking a fix may leave you caught between two vendors. One BugNet subscriber couldn't install Corel Quattro Pro 7 on her new Windows 95 PC because it conflicted with pre-installed Microsoft Explorer. Neither company would take responsibility for the mismatch -- but both were happy to sell compatible upgrades.

Do Your Due Diligence Before you buy any software, talk to other users and consult BugNet or another online forum for known problems. (There are helpful links under "Bug Jumps" on BugNet's site.) Brown says the Mac sites are comprehensible to lay users, but PC bug forums are usually technical or specialized. Also check the vendor's site to see if patches are already being offered.

Bug Your Software Vendor Before you buy a program, find out who provides support. Often, it's not the software publisher, especially with Microsoft Corp. products. Support for pre-installed Microsoft software, for example, falls to PC manufacturers, such as Dell Computer Corp. or Gateway 2000 Inc. Insist that the provider help you. When talking with techies, take names and badge numbers. If you don't get satisfaction, ask for a supervisor and keep working your way up the chain of command. It's a radical idea in the software world, but you do have a right to demand that products you pay for perform as advertised.

By Edith Updike

This article was originally published in the Apr. 26, 1999 print edition of Business Week's Frontier. To subscribe, please see our
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CHART: Swarms
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CHART: Swarms

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