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The Software Conspiracy: Why Software Companies Put Out Faulty Products, How They Can Hurt You, and What You Can Do About It

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A world-renowned technology expert reveals the true cost to business and society created by little-known problems rife within the software industry. Software kills? Yes. Industry insider Mark Minasi argues that it routinely destroys millions of work hours,files,deals,and ideas. Most of us are familiar with conputer problems,but how manyrealize that software victims also include people: a 7 year-old killed by bad fuel-injection software in a Chevrolet in Alabama,28 U.S. Marines lost to a missile-chip ...
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Overview

A world-renowned technology expert reveals the true cost to business and society created by little-known problems rife within the software industry. Software kills? Yes. Industry insider Mark Minasi argues that it routinely destroys millions of work hours,files,deals,and ideas. Most of us are familiar with conputer problems,but how manyrealize that software victims also include people: a 7 year-old killed by bad fuel-injection software in a Chevrolet in Alabama,28 U.S. Marines lost to a missile-chip malfunction,200 people on a flight to Guam blown to bits when an altitude warning device failed. Minasi believes it's time to get mad at the industry that allows such things to happen. From his unique vantage point,he delivers an incisive and highly readable expose that calls computer makers and consumers to account. He reveals how companies inexcusably get away with thumbing their nose at quality,and tells what all of us can do to stop it.

Software Firms to PC Users: "BYTE ME". Avoidable software "bugs"—a cute word for defects—have directly cost the loss of millions of dollars and hundreds of lives. 90% of the bugs that consumers report to software vendors were already known by the vendors before the product was shipped. Powerful software CEOs think that you're completely unaware of software quality and that as long as they keep adding useless features,you'll keep buying. Software firms routinely spring conditions on you after you've paid for their product,but before you can install it on your computer: conditions they won't let you see before you pay for it; conditions that absolve them for any wrongs the product may do to your data—andabsolve you of any rights you have to ownership,or even use of the product you paid for. The software industry maintains software police who can obtain warrants to enter your business and fine you hundreds of thousands of dollars if you are not using the software according to the industry's complex rules and keeping the IRS-like records that they require. Why does the industry do this? Because they can. Because we let them. Consumers who would otherwise howl with outrage over any other kind of product that turned out to be so shabby have been conditioned to give the software industry a free ride. Veteran journalist and computer expert Mark Minasi now explains why it's time to punch some tickets. As Upton Sinclair took on the meat packing industry in The Jungle,Mark Minasi exposes the conspiracy of contempt,complacency,and arrogance of the software industry. An industry now as powerful as the automobile industry was in the sixties and seventies—and as vulnerable.
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Editorial Reviews

Peter Gulutzan

The essential arguments that Mark Minasi makes in The Software Conspiracy: Why Software Companies Put Out Faulty Products, How They Can Hurt You, and What You Can Do is that it's possible to write bug-free software, and that consumers should demand it. Instead, shrink-wrap software companies set their goal as "good enough" instead of "bug free." This is no longer a tolerable goal for mass-market products, and it will ultimately harm the software industry as well as end users.

Although Minasi doesn't even try to supply evidence for "conspiracy" (perhaps the book's title is something the publisher suggested), he does name names and produces smoking guns suggesting that many American software firms are getting away with slop and greed.

For example, the chapter "Software and the Law" documents subtle changes that companies such as Microsoft have slipped into their products' End User License Agreements (EULAs), the case histories of EULAs in American courts, and the dubious status of the claim that they "license" software rather than "sell" it. His trump question is: Why do companies refuse to publish EULAs on their web sites so that customers could know the terms before running the install program?

As common sense as Minasi's argument is, it remains that there are at least three errors in the book:

  • That the word "algorithm" is derived not from Al-Khwarezmi's usual appellation, meaning "man from the land of Khwarezm," but from some nickname that means "man from the town of Khiva".
  • That Microsoft "built" MS-DOS (the most generous word possible would be "adapted").
  • That the Y2K bug was in large part due to use of a two-digit ("99") year for space saving, which is dubious since any Cobol programmer would know how to save more than that by using a binary, rather than an (ASCII), display format for dates.

While trivial errors such as these usually would not affect a book's argument, this is an exception. Why? Because these errors make me wonder about the claim that we should be able to write bug-free software within the real world's constraints of time, money, or boredom. If Minasi, who is obviously conscientious and experienced, can't write bug-free books, why would we expect higher standards from programmers?
Electronic Review of Computer Books

Library Journal
Modern airliners, automobiles, and defense systems rely on software to operate. This mission-critical software is often plagued by serious defects or bugs, and when some bugs bite, they kill. Building on that theme, computer journalist Minasi reveals the true cost to business and society of flaws in mainstream software. He examines software bugs in detail, pointing out common defects and providing commonsense advice on how to cope with software we rely on daily. Minasi also explodes the myth that "it's impossible to write software without bugs"--a myth he alleges many software firms want us to believe--and he warns about proposed changes to laws that would allow a software firm to sell a dangerously flawed or completely useless application and leave no recourse for victims of its failure. Offering step-by-step advice on what consumers can do to help solve the problem of buggy software, he concludes by presenting potential future scenarios, good and bad, and the consequences that could result from inaction. A call to arms for software consumers and a warning to the industry, this is a worthwhile purchase for most libraries.--Joe J. Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lucidly written, eminently practical guide to fighting back against the modern scourge of software "bugs." Ever had your keyboard freeze up in the middle of creating a document? Ever lost a file because your computer mysteriously shut down? Software problems like these are costly, frustrating, and far from rare. Technology journalist Minasi tells us why software is so defective, and what we can do about it. Minasi advocates a "buyer beware" approach: "Companies make software and sell it to the public despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of defects in the software, defects that the company is fully aware of when it sells it." How do these companies get away with introducing defect-filled products into the marketplace? Minasi offers a surprisingly candid answer: people have such abysmally low expectations about software that very few complain. Thus, software companies sell whizbang features, while skimping on quality control. The cultural divisions within software companies also contribute to the problem. Marketing departments wants dazzling features and a short design process, while programmers want time to create superior products. Mostly, marketing wins out. Moreover, the computer industry press rarely criticizes software companies, who provide essential advertising revenues. Minasi isn't optimistic about the ability of consumers to gain legal redress for software-related problems. He describes the flagrantly anticonsumer licensing agreements contained inside boxes of "shrink-wrapped" software. These licenses are basically one-sided contacts offered to consumers on a "take it or leave it" basis. The software lobby has succeeded brilliantly in fending offefforts to enhance consumer protection. What Minasi proposes is that consumers learn how to take care of themselves. He provides an array of troubleshooting suggestions to combat bugs, as well as practical advice on how to seek technical support. An absorbing, easily understandable, and inspiring book about standing up for your rights in the realm of defective software.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071348065
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, The
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 271
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.35 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction.
Why Are There Bugs? How Defects Happen.
It Doesn't Take a Genius, It Just Takes a Process: Building Good Software.
Software and the Law.
Bugs and the Country: Software Economics.
Fighting Back: How to Improve Software.
The Future.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2004

    Interesting ideas, but not in best form...

    This book has quite a bit to offer to the computer-savvy reader who is interested in the theory of software development. It also would appeal to average computers users who are fed up with software defects and want to know more about them. Not much for anyone else. That said, let's move on... The meat of this book is an argument that software companies have a favorable deal (based on legal situations, social conditions, state of the industry, etc) compared with other industries, and that the myriad defects (cutely named 'bugs') present in nearly every piece of consumer software is unacceptable. This was an idea I had not thought of before reading this book, so it certainly piqued my interest. Unfortunately, the book is layed out as one might write an opinion-based essay for a school assignment--it seems that not much attention was paid to the quality of the writing. Things that one would expect to be in the back are in the front, phrases are repeated verbatim several times even in the same section, and there are even some errors in convention that are inexcusable. In short, it's a good book. The quality of the idea is top-notch, but unfortunately, the writing itself wasn't 'tested' rigorously enough (eh, Minasi?). The book is short enough that the few errors there are don't effect the comprehension much, and all in all the book is definately worth checking out from the library.

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