Bugs In the News

 You know the old software dev joke, "It's not a bug, it's a feature."? Another word that's meaning lies somewhere between bug and feature has gained popularity recently. It helps smooth talkers refer to ugly software problems while avoiding nasty words like bug, error or defect. The word is glitch, which the dictionary describes as a 'minor malfunction or mishap '. That doesn't sound as threatening as bug or defect, does it? But if a glitch is a minor thing, how does that explain the kind of defects that news writers are calling glitches? Check out a few 'glitches' I found in the latest headlines:

  • A glitch has surfaced in an upgrade to Cingular's voice-mail system that could allow an intruder to take over a subscriber's account.
  • Microsoft has warned enterprises of glitches involving a security update. A patch designed to fix a flaw creates system instability in some environments.
  • A software glitch in 2004 and 2005 Priuses can make a warning light come on without cause, and in some cases shut down the gas engine altogether.
  • An air traffic controllers union Thursday warned that a software glitch renders some planes flying over the nation's capital temporarily "invisible" to radar.
  • Software glitch exposes private information on thousands of children.
  • A glitch has forced Nasa's Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft to shut down its science instruments.
  • PayPal is working to fix a glitch that has been causing duplicate debit card withdrawals and deposits on some customer accounts since the beginning of September.

Looking at those headlines, I'd guess that glitch is the media code word for catastrophe. Or maybe software PR companies are pushing the word to deflect attention away from the serious problems that these defects are causing. Where do you think it's coming from? Do you call your bugs bugs? Defects? Issues? Work items? Undocumented features? No matter what we call them, the problems in these headlines are just a small example of how software has become critical in our daily lives, and how expensive it is to everyone when software defects get released instead of detected and fixed. Our quality control methods have not caught up with our software production schedules.


Many software companies still release software that they know is buggy because they think that they'll save time and money by doing less testing. It's more important to them to beat their competitors to market than to spend time testing and fixing their products. That may have worked when software wasn't embedded in every part of our lives. A bug used to mean a reboot or retyping a few pages. These days it's common for small software problems to affect thousands of people and cost millions of dollars. And when these problems do occur, it's clear to everyone involved that it would have been cheaper to have had more QA people, more automated tests, and a longer testing schedule before release. But when the problems happen, it's too late, the damage is done. If only someone could have been convinced of the potentional damage before the catastrophe...


The word glitch might be used to soften the message in the news that software bugs are big problems, but you can use the trend to your advantage. Just about every 'glitch' story in the news is like a parable on the value of testing your software. These stories can help you build the case for more QA, and more and earlier testing as a way to save money and time.


Here's a Google search for glitch that you can bookmark and/or subscribe to so you don't miss any good glitches:

            Glitches In The News
            Google News Glitch Search (RSS Feed)

 

 


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