January 1999

Broad PC Software Bug Performance
Is Unacceptable, And Getting Worse...

BugNet Declines To Bestow Its Annual Award For 1998

FOR 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.

BUT 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 wilderness.

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 Internet.

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 threads were.

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 warning.

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 a bug.

WE 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 customer.

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 or want.

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 change dramatically.

Time to try harder, guys, and better luck in 1999.

-- Bruce Brown
BugNet Editor & Publisher

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* Here's Bruce Brown's BugNet Memoir...
* Here's the free BugNet from 1999...