Why Does Software Still Suck?

Slashdot has the latest in a long line of threads on the issue of why software still sucks, this time feeding of off comments made by Jaron Lanier.

To me the people who don’t understand why software will always be buggy are a lot like the people who can’t understand why a more “rational” universal language such as Esperanto has never caught on. In fact even single languages such as English are “buggy” since they are constantly (and spontaneously) revised with new, often extremely complex, rules being added ad hoc onto an already bloated grammatical structure.

To use another example, software will always be buggy for the same reason that people don’t live (yet) to be 300 years old. There doesn’t seem to be any reason at the moment that our species could not have evolved to allow for 300-year life spans, but natural selection, like software users, is more concerned with getting things to work long enough for the next version to come along rather than waiting for some mythical perfect species (okay, natural selection doesn’t really any goals or intent, but you get the idea).

While clearly some software is ridiculously bug-ridden, the more features and flexibility that users demand and the larger computer programs get, the more opportunities there are for error and the more futile efforts at non-sucking software becomes.

Personally, I think companies should focus more on error trapping and fixing bugs once the product is shipped rather than trying to ship a perfect product (Microsoft is a real villain here, in my opinion, in that it takes far too long for it to patch defective software).

Reviews are Coming in on Space Empires IV

Space Empires IV, the ultimate 4X space game, is out and getting very good reviews.

GamesDomain.Com’s reviewer notes that there is a pretty steep learning curve — this is definitely not a game for Civlization and Masters of Orion veterans, not 4X newbies.

For fans of the genre, however,

otherwise, there simply isn’t a deeper and more challenging space 4x game in existence. The grand epic feeling of the game is hard to miss and you really feel like you are running an empire.

FEED Daily on the XFL

In a few months the XFL — the WWF/NBC football league — will kick off what Vince McMahon calls a return to “smashmouth football.” If you believe McMahon, the National Football League is populated by whimps who are scared to death to get hit.

I don’t know which channel McMahon is watching, but I see NFL plays every weekend that I’m surprised somebody isn’t outright killed. Take a bunch of men that big and that fast and put them on opposite sides of a football field and it as Rich Gannon once put it, it’s like watching a car crash.

FeedMag.Com’s Ben Godar really hits the nail on the head on this point,

There’s a reason that pro football plays don’t look as aggressively confrontational as they used to, and it’s not because the game is going soft, but just the opposite: Players today are stronger, larger, and faster than ever before.

…Fifteen years ago there were only around twenty players over three hundred pounds. Today that number is well over a hundred.

Anybody else remember when the Chicago Bear’s Refrigerator Perry was considered a freak and somewhat of a sideshow because of his size?

On the other hand, I enjoy football for precisely the same reason that Godar does, which also happens to be why McMahon despises the modern game — there is as much thinking and creativity in today’s game as there is brute force.

Complex traps, counters, and screen passes have become the mainstay of an effective running game. Winning football has become as much cerebral as physical.

Anybody with the physical size can play “smashmouth” football, but to run the sort of stunts that a defense such as Tampa Bay runs requires a great deal of skill and intelligence that many players lack.

There are a lot of good athletes in the Arena Football League, and that league emphasizes high scoring, basic football. And for the most part it’s extremely boring — almost like a caricature of real football. I suspect that the XFL will find the same problem.

Personally, since they are going to spend a lot of money on it anyway, I’d prefer McMahon and NBC to take the XFL in the direction that sports writers seem to fear most — make it into a completely fake sports opera. Better yet, abandon the whole football schtick, invent a sport that involves a lot of violence, and build a fake league around that.

An enormous part of the appeal of sports are the goings on outside the lines, and a well-managed sports soap opera might actually succeed. If forced to compete on its merits as a legitimate sporting event, however, I doubt the XFL will have what it takes.


Feed daily. Ben Godar, FeedMag.Com, November 16, 2000.

Judge Slaps Injunction on Verio

Wired reports that Register.Com won in its efforts to have a judge place a preliminary injunction on web hosting service Verio that forbids Verio from using Register.Com’s database to spam people who register new domains.

The order specifically forbids Verio to use Register.Com’s database “to enable the transmission of unsolicited commercial electronic mail, telephone calls or direct mail.”

On the one hand, the endless junk e-mails and junk mails I get simply because some company’s robot software pulled my name out of a registrar’s database is annoying (and sometimes hilarious — the “international business directory scams” are amazing). On the other hand, I’m not sure that litigation is the best response, in general, to the problem, although in this case it does seem warranted if only because Verio apparently used Register.Com’s name inappropriately in its e-mail pitch.

PETA Sues Rosie O'Donnell

Last week People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued talk show host and actress Rosie O’Donnell for defamation after O’Donnell claimed PETA endorses the use of some leather products.

PETA and O’Donnell became entangled after O’Donnell decided to proclaim a “wear leather day” on her show. Many animal rights activists and groups, including PETA, decided to go after O’Donnell, declaring “wear leather day” as promoting cruelty to animals.

On a recent episode O’Donnell told her talks how audience that The Gap used leather approved by PETA. According to PETA spokeswoman Lisa Lange, “There’s no such thing as PETA-approved leather,” and PETA announced a lawsuit seeking an on-air retraction of O’Donnell’s statement as well as $350,000 in damages.

The only problem is that O’Donnell is absolutely right — The Gap does use PETA-approved leather and the lawsuit is completely frivolous.

Earlier in the year PETA launched a campaign to convince The Gap to stop using leather obtained from China and India. PETA argued quite vociferously that animals killed for leather in China and India are treated cruelly, and that it would be better for The Gap to buy leather from countries with higher animal welfare standards.

When The Gap caved in to PETA’s demands, the organization trumpeted its great victory. Now, however, PETA wants to run away from this victory when O’Donnell correct points out that The Gap uses PETA-approved leather.

The bottom line is that this lawsuit is simply just another publicity stunt from a group that excels at such stunts.


Animal rights group sues O’Donnell. The Associated Press, December 6, 2000.

Eric Raymond Goes Off the Deep End

Slashdot today was talking about this interview with Linux evangelist Eric Raymond. In the interview, Raymond’s comments come across as almost being a parody of Linux true believers. Raymond is apparently seriuos about the following claims,

I think Linux will become dominant before it is really ready technically for the end users. And the reason I believe that is because I now think that Microsoft monopoly is going to collapse for other reasons in the near future.

One of the reasons is that prices for hardware is steadily dropping. This is a problem for Microsoft because their business model depends on charging a fixed price for pre-installed Windows on a machine. As hardware prices drop, that fixed price represents a larger portion of the margins of the desktop OEMs. The desktop OEMs are going to reach the point when prices drop to a certain level where they simply can’t make any money paying the Microsoft tax.

And it is at that point, that the Microsoft monopoly will collapse, because they will then unbundle Windows from their machines, and offer something that’s inexpensive (like, say, Linux), in an effort to get some of their margin. I believe that will happen probably within five to six month from now, and that’s probably before Linux will become polished and be ready for the end user.

Ummm, no. Hardware companies selling Intel and AMD boxes won’t discard Windows or replace it with Linux for one simple reason — nobody would buy them. Okay, the Linux enthusiasts might, but general users wouldn’t touch the things with a ten foot pole.

What Windows, Mac, and Linux advocates forget is that most end users could care less what OS they’re using. What the average end user is concerned about is application support on the OS. When my wife looks at a new computer she doesn’t care about the technical aspects of the OS, she just wants to make sure she can write her thesis on it, and occasionally take a break and play “The Sims.”

Linux is a long way from having the ease of use and application support to see it migrate to desktop computers except as a niche market. The manufacturer who tried this would almost certainly end up regretting it.