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Quality Control In Computer Companies

Hemos posted more than 13 years ago | from the this-will-detonate-in-five-seconds dept.

Hardware 249

Ant sent us a Salon feature that talks about the (lack of) quality control in computer manufacturing, and then talks about it being "the American way of techno-capitalism". I've not had nearly the problems that people in this article allege, but I can sympathize.

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Software development cycle (5)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#576954)

  1. Programmer produces code he believes is bug-free.
  2. Product is tested. 20 bugs are found.
  3. Programmer fixes 10 of the bugs and explains to the testing department that the other 10 aren't really bugs.
  4. Testing department finds that five of the fixes didn't work and discovers 15 new bugs.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 three times.
  6. Due to marketing pressure and an extremely premature product announcement based on overly-optimistic programming schedule, the product is released.
  7. Users find 137 new bugs.
  8. Original programmer, having cashed his royalty check, is nowhere to be found.
  9. Newly-assembled programming team fixes almost all of the 137 bugs, but introduce 456 new ones.
  10. Original programmer sends underpaid testing department a postcard from Fiji. Entire testing department quits.
  11. Company is bought in a hostile takeover by competitor using profits from their latest release, which had 783 bugs.
  12. New CEO is brought in by board of directors. He hires a programmer to redo program from scratch.
  13. Programmer produces code he believes is bug-free...

yeah well (1)

ryusen (245792) | more than 13 years ago | (#576956)

it's all about cutting corners to trim the overhead right? who cares if you company's product doesn't live up to it's expectations or there are known security issues... we live in a society where marketing dominates
take pokemon for example... 100% marketing genius
as far as the author's gun analogy.. granted the ak-47 is one of the most abusable guns around... but you need to pick the right tool for the job.. if you want decent power, cheap costs and high reliability in varied enviornments then you would pick soemthing like the ak47
higher cost, small design, equal durability and more common ammunition.. try the uzi
the m16 might be jam prone but it is far more accurate at long range than the ak
me personally i like the hk-mp5 for it's high reliability and versitle configurations....
(not that i like guns mind you)

Re:Can't resist (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 13 years ago | (#576957)

Funny, I never encountered any problems with it, contray to some other companies I won't mention by name as they're the ones signing my paycheck:-)

Re:What a bunch of crap (1)

m00t (256995) | more than 13 years ago | (#576976)

That's the way it is. I'm not saying that's the way it should be. Honestly it pisses me off. But the most I can do about it is spend extra $ and go for whomever has the product with the least faults. Unfortunately that means buying just about every competing item and testing it. I don't have that time. Very few people do. Those that do run sites like [H]ardOCP or whatever. And still there's nothing that's exceptional from a quality standpoint. It's pretty sad.

Corporate Insulation (5)

vergil (153818) | more than 13 years ago | (#576981)

Crappy manufacturing does deserve all the blame flung it's way.

What I find more insidious, however, are the legal intricacies computer (and software) manufacturers employ to shield themselves from responsibility.

Anyone remember Hill vs. Gateway 2000? [] . In this case (I'm going from memory here), Gateway offered a 10th Anniversary Special computer to consumers that wasn't all it was advertised to be -- i.e. Gateway's ads said the speakers were "surround sound" and they weren't.

Mr. Hill took Gateway to court, and discovered, to his surprise, that the shrinkwrapped EULA inside the computer box prevented him from suing the company, regardless of their bad faith. Instead (according to the EULA) he was forced to submit to arbitration, which inherently negated any class action status for the thousands of other consumers who were blatantly defrauded by Gateway's false claims. Furthermore (due to the nature of arbitration), the verdict was kept secret, preventing anyone else who had been ripped off from benefiting from the arbiter's decision.

Vergil Bushnell

What about the software (4)

photon317 (208409) | more than 13 years ago | (#576982)

In my opinion the software is the primary problem with the pre-built PC market. The OS loads are _Really_ bad. A quick reload of the latest Win9X coupled with the latest drivers for the hardware (but minus all of the absolute crap utilities the mfg had running in the background) makes a world of difference. Unfortunately the consumer often doesn't know enough to do this.

I'd say on a typical HP or Compaq, you get as much performance boost from the re-install as you would doubling your RAM... which may explain why they're loaded that way

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (2)

PhiznTRG (261350) | more than 13 years ago | (#576983)

While I agree with you, this doesn't excuse the companies that produce crappy code or products. Certainly a computer will have problems after it has been modified, new software installed, etc. The problem is when you get a brand new computer, only use the hardware that came with it and you still have problems and crashes. That is unacceptable

End User Quality Assurance Checking (5)

m00t (256995) | more than 13 years ago | (#576997)

Quality control is expensive. Just slap on a warranty and let the user test it for you.

Example (2)

magnum32 (171166) | more than 13 years ago | (#577006)

Here is an example of a company that needs quality control Desert Devil []

There is NO quality control ~ (1)

LoCoPuff (1019) | more than 13 years ago | (#577008)

Since there are way too many deadlines !

Re:But you can't... (1)

ryusen (245792) | more than 13 years ago | (#577009)

"- No more "Word 97 for Dummies" books"
nah... there will always be stupid people in this world... no mater how smart you make a system someone will break it and blame someone else

AK-47 in space (2)

spood (256582) | more than 13 years ago | (#577010)

There's a reason why NASA still uses computer equipment from 15 years ago - the new technology just doesn't handle the rigors of space. We all hunger for bigger better faster more, and rigorously tested product does not equal cutting edge. So suck it up and pay your $500 for 'guaranteed POS' or go dig your Commodore 64 out of the closet.

Quality Checks (2)

canning (228134) | more than 13 years ago | (#577011)

We have had dealing with many bad vendors, they seem to be the greatest thing since sliced bread at the start of the experience but soon fall way short of your expectations. It's easy for these companies to feel comfortable with a company and thus not give them the attention they need after a period of time.

One hint to technicians and system admins; get regular quotes from a variety of vendors. This will keep them extremely honest and on the ball. If not, your soon at their mercy. You might experience shoddy assembly (I recieved and order for 12 complete systems, all without video cards) or non existant support or both.

Just today we took posession of a server and raid array, which we ordered and waited a few extra days to have the disks installed, and it came without disks installed. Now this vendor has to send a person out to install them. It's not that we can't but because we paid and expected them to be installed.

Most of all problems can be avoided

Complexity: Orders of magnitude larger (1)

Deffexor (230167) | more than 13 years ago | (#577012)

I think the inherent problem here is that the majority of our technological products (just like software) has gotten much more complex. It would cost far more to do "perfect" Quality Assurance (QA) than it would to make money off the product. A company that doesn't make money goes out of business (or hope it gets bought out). Example, in 1979 the 8088 CPU had only 29,000 transistors in it and I'm sure only a handful of engineers had a hand in making/designing it. Only 10 years later, the 486 had 1.2 Million transistors!!! That's 41 times more transistors! That's a large jump in complexity. It makes me wonder how our computers run as well as they do. (it also makes me wonder how AMD stays in business charging only a few hundred per chip.) QA is a very important part of your business, but unfortunately, it's usually the first part that is skimped on. It's the state of capitalism, I guess.

The methods... (3)

TWX_the_Linux_Zealot (227666) | more than 13 years ago | (#577013)

... are not designed to work around quality control.

If you work in software, you want non-obvious bugs that are eventually found and require the $59.95 (or higher) upgrade version, or require all new purchases. These keep your revenue stream coming in for a long, long time, and let you technically get away with calling your release a 'new product' without actually changing many of the features (See Microsoft Office).

If hardware is your game, you want your hardware to cease to function after two to three years, right after the warranty runs out. That way, the customer has to take their computer into Ma and Pa's computer repair, and Ma and/or Pa has to try to fix it, and it turns out that the new video card for your computer needs a different bus, so you need a new motherboard, so you need a new processor, and you need faster ram, etc, and in the end you are screwed. Everyone in the industry benefits from everyone else making shoddy hardware. The customer is mad in the end, but what can (s)he do about it?

I worked field/bench service for 2 1/2 years, and had way too many of these types of problems to deal with. PCChips, Amptron, the now somewhat defunct Packard Bell, HP (pavilion series), Compaq (Presario series), and Acers were the biggest offenders. The Amptron and PCChips boards (which are from the same manufacturer) were the ones that we carried, because unless the customer asked for better, they wouldn't know the difference and sooner or later they'd be back. If they went to someone else because our hardware died, well, the chances were likely that a customer of another shop would come to us. Everyone juggled everyone else's customers, and in the end we all made a marginal profit off of screwing people perpetually.

I refuse to buy components that I don't have experience with now. I work in a QA department, with mostly industrial PCs, and of all that caught me off guard, the cheap SIS AGP video cards are actually pretty damn good for 2d uses. The obvious ones like ASUS and ABIT and 3Com and such stand out, and we get to really pound stuff. If you really want to know what to put in your PC, don't ask your friendly neighbourhood service technician, ask someone who works QA with servers and high end workstations. That way, you'll get a real answer.

"Titanic was 3hr and 17min long. They could have lost 3hr and 17min from that."

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (5)

MarcoAtWork (28889) | more than 13 years ago | (#577014)

I don't agree, a computer accomplishes one task, which is to run programs, following your line of reasoning, a refrigerator accomplishes hundreds of tasks just because it happens to store hundreds of different foods...

It is interesting that the main objection that comes up when there are talks about Quality in software is that computer programs are too complicated, well, building a skyscraper is IMHO just as complicated, but if the Empire State Building falls down, you can't just release Empire State Building Service Pack 2, can you ?

IMHO the main problem is that the discipline of creating computer programs is still very 'new' compared to most of the others (architecture etc.) and after it will mature a bit more, everything will be just fine.

Many (bad) programmers complain that QA stifles their creativity, now I wonder how many city planners would use the same excuse (no, really, multiplexing sewage with water in the same pipes is better, since it will take up less space. What do you mean I can't do that ? You are infringing on my creativity !)

Modern Corp. mentality (or mental corporations!) (2)

Sonicboom (141577) | more than 13 years ago | (#577015)

Corporate mentality is to be the "first to market", and the suits make impossible deadline promises to customers and stockholders without having any knowledge of the product, how it works, how long it takes to build it, or the status of the current build.

Half the problem with today's corporate world is that the SUITS never "worked their way up the ladder", so they have no CLUE on how their business model operates. I've seen so many executives shoot themselves in the foot making foolish decisions because they have no idea about their corporate work model, and then take their aggression/stress/frustration out on the IT people because they didn't meet the impossible deadline that HE had promised to some customer...

Pretty Obvious (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#577016)

Just look at the report on Carnivore [] that was discussed here the other day.

The complete cluelessness regarding quality assurance is pretty widespread. Heck, even when you have billions to throw at it like certain big companies, the slacker attitude is pretty hard to get around.

so what do you expect when you have companies who do not have billions to throw around? Their business plans will not have things like QA built into them. Maube just a lick and a promise. When it does raise it's ugly head, the bean counter types scream and foam at the mouth. By then, it is way way way too late to stem the leak of cash. Who wants to double their estimates of development costs?

Re:Corporate Insulation (1)

Joe Mucchiello (1030) | more than 13 years ago | (#577017)

Has anyone ever thought of saying they didn't get a copy of the EULA in the box? Sometimes they are on separate pieces of paper. Wouldn't the company then have to prove that you did receive it? Obviously this doesn't help with click-through EULA's.

Re:End User Quality Assurance Checking (2)

Icebox (153775) | more than 13 years ago | (#577037)

Lack of Quality Control [] is also expensive.

and then getting through to them (2)

gattaca (27954) | more than 13 years ago | (#577038)

rant:What's more galling is the amount of time you waste on hold being forced to listen to someone else's appalling taste in Adult Orientated Rock (or, as I faced today, 101 Christmas Hits from groups that should have been strangled at birth), when all you want to do is tell them you need to swap the graphics card because its knackered.

Then, when you finally get through, you have to go through a tedious process of diagnosing the fault you've already diagnosed, even though the first thing you did was explain why it was the graphics card that needed replacing. (The second thing was to explain to the person at the other end of the phone that the 'keyboard' is that big grey flat thing infront of them with all the buttons on.)

Quality control of the 'technical support' staff wouldn't go amiss either.

caveat:It's not the poor guy on the end of the phone's fault either - the companies don't want to invest in training them up to do thier job properly. Poor sods, I think it must be one of the most soul destroying things to have to do day in, day out.

Clueless Users (1)

Demonix (140379) | more than 13 years ago | (#577039)

You know, if these poeple would quit trying to use thier CD rom drives as cup holders, try to hot-swap thier modem cards in thier laptops, and quit speaking into thier mice, and actually bothered to LEARN enough about computers to be able to find drivers on the net and install them properly.

FACT - to most people, computers and networking are 'magic'

I'm not saying that some stricter QA methods aren't necessary in some computer industries (gaming!), but you always have to look at who's doing the complaining...I had one guy call me and tell me he couldn't get his web browser or his email to work over his phone line. Of course, he just connected the phone line to the computer...he didn't bother to log on to his ISP... -Demonix

Quality Control (2)

Life Blood (100124) | more than 13 years ago | (#577040)

Quality control has interesting problems in the computer industry. The issue is this, what happens if something breaks? In the case of a standard PC, not much. You lose time and lose money but in the end no one is hurt or dies. Plus with the companies declaring that they aren't liable for the reliability of their products in their licensing, nothing can be done to make them liable for the cost of this lost time and money. Hence the computer industry isn't changing, especially sice consumers have aquired a tolerance for Windows crashing occasionally. Some sort of large scale legal argument for making software and hardware companies liable for their work might be nice though.

Also comparing a computer to a VCR is a false comparison. In terms of equipment and design, a computer is at least an order of magnitude more complex than a VCR with significantly more and more complex moving parts like the various components of the disk drives. The truth is that computers are assembled by computer companies but the parts are much more frequently built by someone else down the line. If a part breaks it is more likely its manufacturers fault not Dells. This is also not quite true for VCRs or toaster ovens.

I also find it interesting that the author spends most of the last page of the article complaining about his Dell laptop and how crappy their tech support was. I think I'm seeing his personal motivation for this piece. Nice to see someone scratching his itch.

Bugs are like bugs (2)

Mike Schiraldi (18296) | more than 13 years ago | (#577041)

Bugs in software are like bugs in strawberry jam - You can eliminate most of them with a reasonable amount of effort, but if you want to try and eliminate all of them, it's going to be ridiculously expensive. So you get rid of the big ones and worry about the ones that slip through on a case-by-case basis.


Ignoring quality is all well and good... (4)

plopez (54068) | more than 13 years ago | (#577042)

until the buggy software actually kills someone. It is unfortunate but true that engineering disasters forced engineering fields to mature. But as software is pushed into more and more life critical roles (medical, aeronautical, automotive)
Software Engineering as a discipline has to be taken more seriously and good engineering practices as well. There is a big difference between a carpenter and a Civil Engineer, just as there is a huge diference between a programmer (or coder) and a Software Engineer.

I sincerely hope India does drive many US software out of business. Only through pain will the lesson s be learned.

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (1)

Dr.Evil (47264) | more than 13 years ago | (#577043)

A computer is something that accomplishes 100's of task so natrually it would need more maintanance than products that only accomplish one... Not sure if there is any point to reading the article any further after a statement like that.

A computer, when you get down to brass tacks, still only does one task - crunch numbers and give you the results. The amount of maintenance is related to the number of components and the failure rates of those components. While the former might not be controllable, the latter is to a large degree.

I think the whole point of the article, actually, is that it is a matter of careful, methodical design. There are still brands of TVs 60 years after its invention, for example, that fail 22-25 percent of the time, according to Consumer Reports. What's appalling is that 22% is the industry average for computer failures.

If you look at some of the other categories, you will see the exact same process occurred for them as the author predicts for computers. TVs, VCRs, other personal electronics, automobiles - all were American-dominated industries until they got lazy and sloppy. Then some other nation's industry, more intent on improving both price and quality, ate their lunch. As the article points out, it will probably be Japan in hardware, and India in software. The real question is, will it take 20 years for the U.S. computer industry to recover like it did for so many others?

Microsoft is: ## +5 ; Honest ## (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#577044)

very concerned about maintaining our high standards of software quality control.


Steve Ballmer, President-Vice

Microcrap Corporation

Perfection? Obsolescence... (4)

seanldunn (55855) | more than 13 years ago | (#577045)

The author in this article talks about "Japanese perfection" and harps on a few of India's software houses having less then .05 defects per 1000 lines of code.

This is nonsense. Any industry that releases new generations of every more complex products every one and a half years or shorter is bound to be riddled with bugs and flaws. Flaws are especially prevalent if the product uses lots of untested new technologies.

Japanese perfection? To us it may look that way, but for many of brand spanking new products released in Japan, they are hardly error free. Often before a Japanese company sells to the foreign market, they will release it domestically for over a year to try to work out the bugs. An example: The Playstation 2 release in Japan was full of flaws. By the time a Japanese product gets to North America or Europe engineers will have found and fixed most of the most glaring errors in the design and manufacturing process.

Generally every new technology will have flaws as everyone gets used to the new tech and while we refine the manufacturing process from the lab to the factory floor, such as 0.13-micron lithography. Today >1GHz CPUs have small yields, in a year the yields and reliability of these chips will be far higher as the technicians tweak the manufacturing product. Just the same way as we can build a 100 MHz today with almost 100% yield.

The bottom line is: If you want perfection and something that is incredibly reliable, you as a rule cannot get bleeding edge equipment.

QC... (1)

tewwetruggur (253319) | more than 13 years ago | (#577046)

well, having worked QC in a non-related industry makes this really interesting... nothing leaves the building in the drug industry without heavy QC testing - now, mind you that being pharmaceuticals, these are things that we ingest, inhale, apply, and inject into/onto ourselves - so the high scriutiny by the FDA makes sense... but why aren't similar fundamentals applied to other industries... ISO et al seems pretty laxed - there are many companies that are ISO compliant - but ISO seems to have its own issues (which I do not want to discuss). Why can't the tech industries apply their own standard of quality - and "cost" is a really lame excuse - I'd rather pay a little bit more to get something that isn't going to die in three days and have to be replaced. QA/QC is NOT the consumers' job: it's a QC analysts' job.

Its pretty pathetic if a company's rationale for not having QC is to cut costs. That to me seems more of a lack of responsibility. If the company truly believed in their product - they'd have the sense to make sure it works before it heads out the door to the market. I'd hate to see the almighty buck override pride in our work.

Firestone (1)

rigau (122636) | more than 13 years ago | (#577062)

The funniest thing just happened to me. As i was reading the title of this article thenews on the tv started to talk about the Firestone recall and that some of the tires that were not reacallec should have been and that the reason they didn't recalll them was because of simple economics. Most companies are penny wise and pund foolish. This i think comes from the simple problem that they need to think of the future in terms of quarters. They want to save as much as they can in the present so that the sheets look good at the end of the quarter. Another thing with computer equipment becoming crappier is that the cycle of computers is beoming longer so an older computer will stay in use longer and the owner will not need to upgrade as soon. This is happening because the needs of computer users are being met by what was available before and not too many programs keep pushing the need for bigger faster computers. Sure Quake and what not do but not everyone is a video game player. For example I know a 71 year old man who bought his first computer recently. all he uses it for is for email, some web browsing and for word processing. Im prety sure that his laptop can do those tasks well enough that unless he begins to want to do something else besides these tasks he will never have to upgrade. So if people don't have to upgrade whatr do you do? you make them crappy so they have to replace them. The crappy materials will inflate your quarterly earnings and the crappy materials will shorten the upgrade-replace cycle.

How 'Bout a Little Journalistic Quality? (4)

John Murdoch (102085) | more than 13 years ago | (#577063)


Let's take a step back here, and analyze what this article is really about. The writer had a problem with two modems and a printer driver--but bitched until she got somebody to come on-site to replace the motherboard and the entire printer. Her solution to these problems is to cite examples of Indian enthusiasm for software engineering.

There's just one little problem--software engineering has ZIP to do with the problems this not-quite-up-to-speed writer had. Her modem problems? I'd bet money she had IRQ conflicts, but the tech on the phone couldn't walk her through fixing them. The simple solution was to send a human out there--hence, replace the motherboard. The real solution: a legacy-free box that connects a modem without hardware interrupts. Her printer driver problems? Yes--there are crappy drivers. That's a marketing problem. But a printer driver problem is not solved by shipping a new printer--and for an allegedly experienced computer journalist to have to wait months for a CD-ROM to arrive with a printer driver (what--she couldn't find how to download a LaserJet driver from is simply laughable.

I'm a big believer in software engineering. But I'm also a big believer in quality journalism--and this article most definitely isn't quality journalism at all. This article essentially boils down to whining from a particularly clueless user about how she can't manage to get her computer to work. The solution she suggests--software engineering--has nothing to do with the problem. All the software engineering in the world isn't going to solve her IRQ problems with her modem--a USB port will. The best software engineering in the world may produce the best printer driver in the world--but printers will still need drivers. Updating a printer driver will always require replacing the driver--not the printer.

Bottom line: the article is a waste of time.

Re:End User Quality Assurance Checking (1)

m00t (256995) | more than 13 years ago | (#577064)

It's more expensive than QA, actually.

But that's not what matters.

Getting the money now is what matters to companies.

If you've got a bill coming tomorrow for $15million and you've got a product that can make you $15million by tomorrow guarenteed or 20$million a month from now, you're going for the money now. That's how a lot of companies seem to work these days.

The cost of a bug fixed after a product released is hundreds of times more than a bug fixed in development or design.

Re:Pretty vague. (1)

kugano (84704) | more than 13 years ago | (#577065)

In retrospect I probably should've realized there were two more pages to the article before I posted that. :-)

Re:Open Market (1)

Icebox (153775) | more than 13 years ago | (#577066)

But the costs go both ways, which the article is attmepting to point out. It costs the supplier more in the long run because they have to provide far more tech support and after the sale service. The last paragraph or so of the article recounted an experience with Dell and HP overnighting replacement parts to fix broken equipment. I think the example was extreme but things like that can get expensive.

Traditional Quality Control theories use cost reduction as their justification. Six Sigma [] is a particularly popular quality system at moment and cost reduction is very central to it.

Epoxy in the dipswitches (1)

Deanasc (201050) | more than 13 years ago | (#577067)

My Compac Presario 1685 laptop has epoxy poured into the dipswitches. Could it be to stop me from changing my configuration? Is it so that their customer support doesn't have to deal with problems from users who need things a little different from the way it was shipped?

Seriously I have to open it up so often now I don't even put the screws back in.

real cost of quality (1)

call -151 (230520) | more than 13 years ago | (#577068)

The article makes a number of excellent points. It is hard to answer the question: How much more would I be willing to pay to get something that actually is very likely to work correctly the first time? How much more am I willing to pay for something that will last? This is cost is of course going to vary significantly from person to person, but in general I think that people tend to underestimate the value of things working Right the First Time and Actually Lasting. Saving $50 by getting a cheaper brand of hard drive is great, but if one out of 20 hard drives that you get has a defect that takes more than an hour to diagnose and fix, then you have to factor in the cost of sorting out the problem and it may longer be not such a bargain.

That being said, the guide for manufacturers of products is the marketplace and what everyone else is doing. Why risk being late to market by actually doing a thorough job when you know that your competitors are not going to worry about high quality? Who wants to be the better product that didn't catch on? These are issues for all manufacturers, not just software, of course. And there have been too many instances of better-engineered, higher-quality products that did not suceed in the market for companies to err on the side of caution. I don't think you have to look hard to find very popular, very sucessful, inferior products in the computer world...

The article is overly critical and I believe takes some remarks by Guy Kawasaki out-of-context. He often speaks in kind of ``commencement speech" mode (and does in fact give commencement speeches) so I suspect his comments about just getting something out the door were meant to encourage the creative spirit, rather than be a guideline for how much to focus on quality in the software industry. You can't blame him when he says ``Do not believe that the first version has to be perfect. If the software industry were honest, they would tell you the algorithm is: ship, then test." That does summarize the attitude of the software industry, but they are not doing it because Guy Kawasaki told them to do it, but instead because that is what is economically most sensible.

Re:Can't resist (1)

jnik (1733) | more than 13 years ago | (#577069)

ATI's drivers are almost always immature at shipping.

Disconnect (1)

SnapShot (171582) | more than 13 years ago | (#577070)

I've just spent a couple of minutes perusing a "tech support" horror stories site ( mentioned in a different article today. There seems to be a tremendous disconnect between what most people use their computer's for and what they are actually buying.

I think most people need appliances not computers. One completely self-contained box for handling email (maybe through their television). A completly separate word-processing box with a built-in printer.

In other words, the interaction of all the various components makes the computer much less stable than it needs to be for most uses. This is a programming/design problem, of course, but it is also a marketting problem, an advertising problem, and, perhaps most importantly, a user problem.

Finally, perhaps a written test should be required before allowing the purchase of a computer.

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (2)

aidoneus (74503) | more than 13 years ago | (#577071)


Quality in software is that computer programs are too complicated, well, building a skyscraper is IMHO just as complicated, but if the Empire State Building falls down, you can't just release Empire State Building Service Pack 2, can you ?


Actually, you're a little off on that... Perhaps one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the NY skyline, the Citibank building, has just such a flaw in it. The way it was originally designed, if it had encountered winds over 78mph it was at serious risk of collapes (due to poor design of the steel framework, IIRC). Shortly after it was finished, and a rare hurricane was headed towards NYC a the builder secretly replace and/or modified many beams (bolting them instead of welding them), essentially providing a "service pack".

One of the lessons I remember from an engineering class. More information is available here [] .

Overheard command at a software firm. (1)

ybmug (237378) | more than 13 years ago | (#577072)

Well heck, it compiles... lets ship it.

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (1)

Oztun (111934) | more than 13 years ago | (#577073)

I think you missed the point. You expect the refrigirator to keep your food cold... How many things do you expect a computer to do? Maybe if you want something simple you should buy a mac. However if you want something to do everything and anything under the sun there are always going to be conflicts and problems.

Re:The methods... (1)

Dr.Evil (47264) | more than 13 years ago | (#577074)

If you work in software as a programmer, you don't want bugs at all, because they're boring and time-consuming to fix, and frankly, they're embarassing. What any software engineer really wants is new challenges and projects, not maintenance-mode work.

Actual code-monkeys don't want bugs - that's a management issue, and if it's deliberate, it's reprehensible. Most often, it's simply that release cycles are too short for top-notch quality work. You identify your showstopper defects, you fix them, and you ship.

As far as "planned breakage" in hardware, it's not quite as simple as you indicate. You design a product for a certain load, because there's a cost-benefit trade-off involved. You can determine the mean time to failure (MTTF) pretty accurately. You then warranty the product for whatever period corresponds to an acceptable failure rate. How you define acceptable is key here. If acceptable is "how many customers we can afford to drive away," then you give them as short a warranty period as possible. If acceptable is "how many we can afford to replace against our costs to keep customers happy," you make the warranty period as long as possible. The irony is, the longer a product's warranty period, the less likely it probably is to need warranty service within that period.

Old problem (1)

Icebox (153775) | more than 13 years ago | (#577075)

Quality Assurance / Control has always suffered from the fact that companies are made up of individuals who are, at their core, more interested in their personal well being rather than the well being of the company as a whole. This is a large part of why many of the Japanese methods worked so well for them but have failed to affect significant changes in the US. Japanese workers place much more value on the success of their company than Americans do.

The problems, at least for the manufacturing companies I've been involved with, occur when the sales force tells upper management that they think they can sell 5000 widgets next month. Management goes to the manufacturing people and informs them that they must increae their production of widgets but must be careful not to spend too much money. The production lines fire up and start cranking out widgets. Unfortunately, quality was not foremost in the minds of the people who designed the production line (capacity was) so many of the widgets have defects. The Quality people start catching defects and they decide to either make some changes to the process or to start rejecting a few widgets. Manufacturing goes to management and cries a lot about how the Quality people are causing them to exceed their budget by scrapping widgets. Management learns that if the Quality people keep scrapping widgets at the present rate, no one is going to make any money this month, thus they lower their standards for what constitutes a good widget.

This can be applied to virtually any process, software development included. People are short sighted. They want immediate satisfaction, particularly in the tech industry.

IT Morlock's tale (3)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 13 years ago | (#577076)

I've worked for Apple, Compaq, and IBM authorized warranty repair centers over the years. I have to say that Compaq is the worst. It has even gotten to the point when someone will call and say "I have a Compaq that needs warranty service." and we'd respond "Broken Presario huh?". We were right about 90% of the time.

Apple has recently been running a close second. The new iMacs, the summer 2000 and the earlier iMac DVs were plagued by power problems. The early iMac DV has a design flaw which causes the power button to become stuck so that it can't reliably be powered up when it's pushed. The summer 2000 models have been blowing power/analog boards like nobody's business. I have personally done more power/analog board replacements than I care to remember. Lastly the PMG4s have a problem with the front panel board. This can appear to be a power supple problem, you put in a new power supply and guess what? Problem still exists. A $0.50 board is defective in lots of these machines.

Apple & Compaq have to know that there is a problem with these machines, but still they do nothing about it. Instead of going through the expense of a recall, they just fix them as the blow out. I think that's shitty. Some people depend on these things to make a living and when your machine is down for a week because of a flaw that they know about, Apple & Compaq abdicate any responsibility for the lost income.

I think that's dirty, they shouldn't treat customers like that.


This is about as personally relevant... (1)

talks_to_birds (2488) | more than 13 years ago | (#577077) the article yesterday about tech support.

When was the last time I called tech support?

I can't really even remember.

When/what was the last computer I bought?

A 1991 GW2K 80386 that's running RHL 5.2 at home right this very moment as I type this. (I'm not *typing* on the 386 - I'm at work..)

Every computer I've had since that one, I've built from parts.

C'mon guys: is this "News for Nerds" or pap for cyber-consumers?

Make up your minds...

I think not; therefore I ain't®

Evolution (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 13 years ago | (#577078)

Shocking, a new market is moving to quickly for its own good. Such is the way of things. For an as-far-off-the-wall as I can think of example, consider the American west. All that space to take, all that money to be made, which is why it was "wild" for so long. Consider this the begining of the end of the "wild software." The computer landscape if finally being settled, and all the gunslingers and lawmen will be supplanted by a more organized and civil system.

As for SEIs procedures, some professors have begun teaching them at even the lowest level CS courses here at CMU. A friend of mine had one of those professors. Teaching quality is important, but she should have taught the class how to program first.

And finally, I did QA for the software division of a company last year. It was actually kinda fun: click until it breaks, then figure out why; or look at the spec, look at the screen, what doesn't match? It's amazing how many bugs I found.

God does not play dice with the universe. Albert Einstein

My escapades with Acer (4)

TheTomcat (53158) | more than 13 years ago | (#577079)

In 1996, I bought an extremely overpriced Acer Aspire from Future Shop in Moncton, NB, Canada.

The salesman told me that the New Cyrix 6x86's were great, so I bought it, and took it home. (mistake number 1, although, I never had trouble with the chip, other than being extremely slow).

Pulled the tower out of the styro-foam, and heard "clunk". Sounded like an ISA card was loose or something. Took the machine back to Future Shop, and they gave me another machine. Took that machine home, BSOD'd on the first boot, and I kept getting BSODs. Called Acer tech support, waited for 45 minutes on hold, got a tech who barely spoke english, explained the problem, and he declared that the RAM in my machine was bad. Gave me a number to call to have it replaced. Called the number, the repair shop told me that it would be up to 2 weeks before I could have the machine I've never used fixed, so I took it back to Future Shop, and had it replaced after arguing with the sales manager.

So, I'm on machine 3, which is working alright, but I notice that the hard drive is incredibly slow, so next time I'm in the store (a week later), I mention that to the salesman, and he tells me "oh yeah, the Acer techs were in here earlier this week, and they did some stuff to the hard drives. Bring your machine in, and I'll switch you for a good one." Machine number 4.

6 months later, my CDRom fails.. I sold the machine after having the CDRom fixed.

Needless to say, I think twice before buying Acer, now.

History shows us... (1)

Art_XIV (249990) | more than 13 years ago | (#577103)

History shows us that poor quality control can be overcome by effective marketing.

Crappy product? No prob! Make some clever commercials and keep a well-compensated sales and marketing staff!

I've been part of several races against completely artibitrary deadlines, (how do execs come up with these?) and have happily survived in a merely broken but not dead condition.

Having taken part in the creation of something crappy makes me consider other career options. A crap project that could have been killer with a little more time... now that's a heart-breaker.

The Open Source movement is (at least in part) an expression of rebellion against the "Ship Now, Test Later" IT/corporate sentiment.

But this problem isn't unique to IT, as the article shows. I just can't wait for the "Ship Now, Test Later" sentiment to be used in bio-tech! Wheeee!

Meaningless stats from PCWorld (1)

inkydoo (202651) | more than 13 years ago | (#577104)

Without seeing the specific questions they asked, it's hard to know what to make of their numbers. What do they mean by "break down"? Is this hardware "break downs" only?

But, even if we did know exactly what questions were asked, the results can only be generalized to subscribers of PCWorld magazine, as that was population sampled. For all we know, PCWorld subscribers are different from the average PC User. I think we can certainly say that the average PCWorld subscriber is quite different from the average Slashdot reader.

The only thing that seems particularly meaningfull from the PCWorld survey is how well major resellers treat their customers. Dell seems to do well, while Gateway seems to suck.

More appropriate. (1)

Raymond Luxury Yacht (112037) | more than 13 years ago | (#577105)

(Taken from the Salon story [] ...)
"I am talking, for instance, about the unsurprising message in PC World's July issue -- based on responses from 16,000 subscribers -- that computer owners are having more trouble than ever with their machines, and that very few of them are happy with these products or the quality of service from their makers."

Wouldn't it stand more to reason that there are more and more consumers purchasing computers than at any time in history, and that ANYONE can buy one? If you purchase a car, you can not take it on the road unless you have at least rudimentary grasp on how to use it (unless you live and drive in Boston... then you just need the car). Not so with computers. Anyone can buy one, but nobody can make sure that person knows how to use it. I had the misfortune to work for a computer retailer, so I speak from first hand experience when I say that the vast majority of complaints about "broken" computers are machines which have absolutely no problems whatsoever. I'd bet any amount that of those 16,000 subscribers, more than HALF got the machines home and immediately installed all sorts of useless crap and promptly trashed the system. Now, I've yet to have any issues with a computer that I have not been able to resolve either through re-installing the OS or taking it back to the retailer and getting a part replaced due to not to negligence, but simply hardware failure. Yes, I have heard horror stories but I am sure it is nothing like author makes it sound.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate to take a hint from software manufacturers when it comes to hardware? Like, on a the side of a box of software it will tell you "Requires: 486 or higher. 16mb RAM" etc.
How about
"If you:
a) Can not tie your own shoes
b) Think 'Tater Tots are one of the 4 major food groups
c) Regularly watch/are featured in 'COPS'
d) Intend to use AOL
e) Do not have even the most remote idea how to use a computer and have no intention to actually learn should not be purchasing this computer"

Games (2)

Fervent (178271) | more than 13 years ago | (#577106)

To see a good demonstration of lack of QA, look no further than computer games. Hundreds of thousands of patches abound, many soon after the game is released. And a majority aren't "let's add this cool new feature" patches but "oops, that's one hell of a bug we missed" patches.

It's not clear to me... (1) (113202) | more than 13 years ago | (#577107)

...that software failures are "computer breakdowns" (at least in this context).

If I was to place a bet, I'd put a lot of the blame for actual hardware failures squarely on those horrid 'computer hutches' -- I'd say if you put your computer into what amounts to a closed box, you deserve your lump of melted silicon.

BYou have confused the issue. (1)

NuclearArchaeologist (104596) | more than 13 years ago | (#577108)

My computer performs 100's of tasks? I don't think so. My computer performs the few tasks it was designed for flawlessly. It moves data around its various parts, and manipulates that data when it should. There are hundreds of potential uses for these operations, but you should not confuse machine reliability with software quality. In general, the output of all of my computer operations are confined to screen display, printing, network communications and a few odd noises. All of these things work well.

I used to think I had flaky computers, then I got Linux. Suddenly, my slow cheap junk started doing things for me again and routine tasks became enjoyable. A nicer 650 Athalon runs like a dream, compared to my fromerly lowered expectations. Only one of my computers running any version of Linux has ever crashed hard, and that was because the room was too hot.

I can compare this record to NT where I work. There we have finely made machines with expensive parts that run like crap. "Software updates" are an almost weekly occurance, and uptime of more than a few days is rare.

Re:Complexity: Orders of magnitude larger (2)

Xenu (21845) | more than 13 years ago | (#577109)

From what I've read, Intel dealt with the increasing transistor count and complexity of their chips by investing large amounts of money in design automation software. The early chips were laid out by hand, with lots of mylar. The layout on later chips was mostly automated. Supposedly, the buggy 80286 was a wakeup call for Intel, that the old methods couldn't deal with new designs.

Quote from the article (4)

dmuth (14143) | more than 13 years ago | (#577110)

"So what about those companies that whine that giving consumers bug-free products would mean raising their prices by as much as 50 percent?"

I'd tell them to go talk to Linus, RMS, and ESR. :-)

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (2)

scotay (195240) | more than 13 years ago | (#577111)

VCRs, TVs, dryers and refrigerators are tested as entire, complete units. There is little variation from one unit to another as it comes off the assembly line.

Computers are built from a Tower of Babel of separate components. The CPU, motherboard, memory, graphics and hard drive may all be high quality, tested components on their own. Combine them all into a single unit and you end up with a flaky problem child with all kinds of unforeseen interactions and problems.

It just shows that computer technology is still in its infancy. It's a wonder any computer works given the way we cobble them together.

Re:But you can't... (1)

BrianH (13460) | more than 13 years ago | (#577112)

Actually, the car industry is an excellent example of why things MUST change. Look at the American automotive industries in the 1940's-1960's. Detroit was pumping out beautiful cars with innovations up the wang, and absolutely dominated the world automotive market. The problem was that by the late 60's-early 70's, quality had gone downhill. If you asked a Detroit engineer about it at the time, you would have got a response like "Well, that's just how cars are! People won't pay for a high quality automobile". And what happened next? The Japanese stepped into the market and introduced inexpensive, well built, and RELIABLE automobiles, and nearly killed Detroit in the process. Thousands of American workers lost their jobs because they refused to pull their heads out of the sand and fix the problems.

I fear that the computer industry today is at the same point the automotive industry was 30 years ago. Quality is poor, but nobody sees a reason to fix it because there's no alternatives and low quality is considered normal. It was only in response to higher quality competition that American car builders finally cleaned up their acts and began building better products.

So the only question in my mind is, who will be the next Japan?

not techno-capitalism, just american capitalism (4)

MillMan (85400) | more than 13 years ago | (#577113)

"techno-capitalism" is just the current manifestation of the way American capitalism has always worked. I mean this quite literally, it's been this way all the way back to the beginning of the industrial revolution.

The best example I have is from a History of Science class I took involved railroads. Americans would build many miles of track per day, at the expense of quality, as the tracks would break often, and sometimes they even ran them on top of the snow(!). When it would melt, the track would have to be rebuilt. The British, on the other hand, took their time and built tracks that would last.

In the modern day things are even worse, because of broadcast technologies that gave rise to the advertising industry. Now companies waste money convincing you that you need product x, regardless of how good product x is and if you even need it. They do a good job of convincing, too. It has brought our economic system to a new low, in my opinion, as far as the effect on our society.

Whether or not this additude will harm the US in the long run remains to be seen. Mentioning India as a threat seems to be a stretch right now, they have a pretty limited industrial base as far as I know. Japan and Germany seem to be the obvious threats (personally I view them as healthy competition). The focus in Germany is on making a good product at the possible expense of profit. In America it's the other way around. Japan seems to have a better balance somewhere in the middle, although that doesn't explain the recession/slow growth they've had over the past 11 years.

Hopefully competition from other coutries can "keep it real" for american corps as Japan did for the automakers.

Re:The methods... (3)

skoda (211470) | more than 13 years ago | (#577114)

"If hardware is your game, you want your hardware to cease to function after two to three years, right after the warranty runs out."

That's what a short-sighted company wants. A company that intends on being in business for a good long while wants to sell products that last so long that the user wishes it would break (as an excuse to buy a new one :)

That's exactly what Toyota & Honda have achieved. The general understanding of the typical car buyer is that a Honda or Toyota will outlive your desire for it to still be alive. (Of course, now that the reputation is firmly established, these companies charge above average prices). The issue for the consumer is whether they are willing to pay the greater price for the usually higher quality product, or pay less and hope that a lower cost product doesn't cost more in the long run.

Ironically, the bewildering array of parts for computers, the makers thereof, and the pretty rapid turnover of companies (compared to the auto industry) may be what is currently saving the computer industry from having to reap what it sows.

Since people can't generally form a consensus about a specific product or brand name, word can't spread that "EscortVideoCard" should be avoided while "CivicVideoCard" will cause no problems.

Perhaps what is really needed is for the general domination of a few competitive players in each category (but no virtual monopolies) that allow consumers to form grounded opinions on the relative quality, and thus force the companies to shape up or ship out.

Or, perhaps, as the author suggests, India or somesuch will move in, eat our collective lunch (as happened with the auto industry, RAM production, quality cameras & lenses, and consumer electronics, to name a few over the past 50 years), but in the long run cause US companies to produce quality products (as happened with autos, but not with RAM, cameras, and electronics :( )

(BTW - I bought an Escort a few years ago, because the Civic cost much more, gambling that I wouldn't pay that difference in more in repairs over the car's life. And that's the other problem. Consumers can be finicky, two-faced, unloyal, and buy cheap rather than quality :/ )
D. Fischer

Burning an Anti-Japanese Strawman (1)

NuclearArchaeologist (104596) | more than 13 years ago | (#577115)

Not long ago, Silicon Valley marketing guru and venture capitalist Regis McKenna -- for whom I was editing a book -- told me that high-tech leaders who had once made pilgrimages to Japan to understand quality circles and other tools of quality control had lost interest in those buzzwords of the 1980s. They had come to see their product reliability problems as an inevitable side effect of what they excelled at -- innovation at top speed.

"'Act fast and fix the problems later' is how we operate here," Regis said. He showed me a Stanford Computer Industry Project study whose conclusion was that Japan would always lag behind America in software innovation and sales because of a business culture in which perfectionism is rampant. Unlike Japanese computer companies hobbled by elaborate quality control and testing procedures, the Stanford researchers found, American companies accept "good enough" quality for the sake of speed.

So, is this why my Honda drives better than and will outlast your Saturn? Sorry, I don't buy it and neither did the author or should you.

Greed and class strife are killing US industries, not "innovation". Japanese labor now makes more money than US counterparts. That's what happens when you focus on product rather than marketing, and co-operate. My wife and I have seen little innovation in most software since the days of what she calls "Windows 93".

I have not noticed much of the hardware reliability problems lately. In fact, most of my hardware is running better than ever. The software, mostly Free, has revealed the flaws in previous software from Redmond.

Re:The point (1)

Marasmus (63844) | more than 13 years ago | (#577116)

Yes, it's a sad condition... What's really scary is that it applies to hardware, too.

Back circa 1985, if you bought yourself a computer (Lets just say you get a Mac SE), the rate of failure out-of-the-box was extremely low. In the case of 40 particular Macintosh systems bought in 1985-1987, I know that only one of them needed hardware service at all by 1991. However, in 1993, the same company bought 13 new Macintosh systems (to replace some of those old Mac SE's that were STILL running), and had hardware problems with 3 of those 13 within a year.

Apple has statistically held a much better defect/failure rate than most IBM-clone PC manufacturers (the big ones, like Gateway, Dell, Compaq, etc), let alone all the independent stores building machines themselves.

I can say from personal experience (formerly being a system production manager for such a small company) that the return rates on computer hardware are absurdly high. Our store was among the best (sadly) with an average of a 10-12% return rate for components. If you statistically sum up all the 10-12% possible breakdowns of components in a computer, that should give you a clue as to how many of our full systems we saw back - more than 50% within the year. Talk about depressing...

Personally, I think that the software situation is worse in that respect, but it's just a lot easier to upgrade a program than it is to solder a new north bridge on your motherboard. :)

Obviously a poor article (1)

shftleft (261411) | more than 13 years ago | (#577117)

This article goes back and forth between hardware and software issues, poorly written code and poorly manufactured products. It was obviously a novice user grabbing quotes wherever she could to help vent her 'tech frustrations'. Hey, figure it out yourself if you want to 'diagnose'.

Quality control (and releases) (3)

Pahroza (24427) | more than 13 years ago | (#577126)

What I worry about the most is receiving a product only to have it recalled. If a firm made sure to begin with that their product was in good working order (under all conditions) it would save them money in the long run. I know that sometimes bugs only pop up after months of use, and that should also be tested. I recently bought a machine that had a bad logic board. This had been a known issue. After two months of use, the board had a circuit that fried. It took two weeks to get the machine back. I'm sure that the company doesn't like having to pay for warrantied work. More extensive tests would ease some of these problems. Is there really no way to ensure more quality yet still be "first to market"? I know it's a cut-throat industry, but customer satisfaction should be the ultimate goal.

The author isn't very smart in his comparison... (4)

Oztun (111934) | more than 13 years ago | (#577133)

From the article:

In analysing repair histories of 13 kinds of products gathered by Consumer Reports, PC World found that roughly 22 percent of computers break down every year -- compared to 9 percent of VCRs, 7 percent of big-screen TVs, 7 percent of clothes dryers and 8 percent of refrigerators.

A computer is something that accomplishes 100's of task so natrually it would need more maintanance than products that only accomplish one. The author seems to overlook this entirely. Not sure if there is any point to reading the article any further after a statement like that.

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics (1)

Vinster (107570) | more than 13 years ago | (#577143)

I love this stuff! And I quote:
... Advanced Information Systems is churning out software with just 0.05 defects per 1,000 lines of code -- "better than the space shuttle's software"

Hey, me too! In fact I churn out only 0.0049 defects per 1,000 lines of code! And they are easy to count, too, because:
A) All my bugs are the reult of only _one_ line of code each.
B) I program in basic so my line numbers make the bugs, sorry, defects easier to count.
C) No one ever uses anything I write except me so I don't have to worry about some luser ever doing something in the software differently than I would, myself.

I'm expecting my "Level 5" certification in the mail any day now.

QA and computing stuff (1)

ErichTheRed (39327) | more than 13 years ago | (#577144)

Anyone remember Packard Bell? (hundreds of tech support people raise their hands) Their entire manufacturing strategy seemed to be "Build it, don't test it, let the consumer figure it out." As a result, it wss very difficult to get PB's proprietary sound/radio/video capture/speakerphone/modem card to work with any ISP's service. Drivers existed that worked in ssome cases, but of course it was frustrating to support anyone with a Packard Bell. Also, during a brief stint selling computers (blech!) it was always the PBs that would come back, nearly 25% of the time in our store. Why? Because in an age where the average PC hovered around $2000, PB was pumping out PCs for $900-1300 on the low end. Skimp on quality and get burned (they no longer sell in the US, and I remember a million "Packard Bell Sucks" web pages.)

Planned obsolescence is here to's obvious that computer manufacturers don't make 'em like they used to. Some of the mainframe hardware I've seen at work has been running for 20+ years, with minimal service. Your average desktop PC is a cheap piece of junk in comparison. Why? Because the manufacturer knows that you'll outgrow the machine just slightly after the warranty period ends in most cases. Companies are on two and three year replacement cycles now, so that's how good they have to make them.

Do I agree with this? Yes and no. Hardware manufacturers shouldn't knowingly release junk, especially heavily advertised junk. That's no way to keep customers, and no way for newbies to start out in the computer world. However, manufacturers do realize that most people upgrade or trash their PCs frequently, so it's natural for them to want to skimp a little.

Re:How 'Bout a Little Journalistic Quality? (1)

beanball75 (126064) | more than 13 years ago | (#577145)

What are you talking about? 4 paragraphs out of the entire article does not equal shoddy journalism. I think you need to come up with a more legitimate criticism if you honestly think the article is a waste of time.

Quality Control (1)

spamme (261404) | more than 13 years ago | (#577146)

Oh, I thought they ment when a product was too good and they'd have to cut down on quality... =) My mistake

Wider user user base = more morons (1)

hobbesx (259250) | more than 13 years ago | (#577147)

As more and more people buy computers who aren't technically inclined, they start to pull companies over to their cluelessness. Any computer company is going to go where they see money. More people I've spoken with as a support tech who don't have a clue just expect their computer to work like magic. A computer's a computer, right? Aren't they all basically the same?

It should be among the fastest clock cycles, lots of RAM, a huge hard drive and lots of software all for three easy payments of $19.95! (Insert cheesy announcer/local computer retailer schpeal here)

If they can't get one computer company to build one for them that they like, they'll find some other company that will sell them crap, as long as it's at the right price. Hopefully these people learn after their first purchase.

"Troll" -- hell! (1)

talks_to_birds (2488) | more than 13 years ago | (#577148)

Crikeys, kids!

Is there no one else here who builds and maintains their own boxes?




Hey! this'll show up in the post statistics to show the advertisers at the next marketing meeting.

Don't knock me! I'm doing my part for /.

I think not; therefore I ain't®

Odd (1)

Auckerman (223266) | more than 13 years ago | (#577149)

I work on an Octane all day. It's been on over 120 days, the last time it was off was because of a power outage.

In our lab, we have a G4 running MacOS 9. It gets rebooted daily (scheduled to happen at 3am, right before it indexes the harddrive).

At home, I have a PC with BeOS and WinME and a iMac running OS X. BeOS, has yet to crash. Windows has ONE third party application on it. Just one. HalfLife. I have had to reinstall Windows once since I bought it 4 months ago. I have had to reinstall Internet Explorer 3 times, and my Sound Driver Once. Where as I haven't rebooted my iMac since I installed OS X (I ordered it the day it was available).

To blame software companies in general is silly. Name names. Embarrass the companies. This and this along is why:

1. reverse engineering should be legal

2. Shrinkwrapped agreements should be null and void and software should NOT have limitations on what you can do with it. (i.e if i want to run a gigantic web server on Win2K upgrade, let me)

3. And last but not least all bugs, security "issues", and assorted corporate violations should ALWAYS be release to the public in full form-regardless of who is still vulernable to it. Let THEM screw their customers with their shitty software, it's not your fault the bug is there.

Re:Games (1)

CausticPuppy (82139) | more than 13 years ago | (#577150)

And all too often, a patch is released later to add functionality that was promised on the outside of the box!

Re:How 'Bout a Little Journalistic Quality? (3)

ckedge (192996) | more than 13 years ago | (#577151)

> There's just one little problem--software engineering has ZIP to do with
> the problems this not-quite-up-to-speed writer had. Bottom line: the article is a waste of time.

Bullshit. I'm a software engineer in a company that writes monitoring software for mission critical back end systems. In my personal life, I've grown more and more and more frustrated at the utter shit I have to put up with in software on my home computer.

It's not a problem if you're granny six pack and all you want to do is read your e-mail and browse the net for a few hours a week, but try and do anything more than simple, and you get beat to death by software bugs. Quite ironically, I now harbour a savage hatred of all the other software companies out there churning out all the garbage, the managers that run them, and the people that own them.

A couple months ago I ended up not using my home computer for 6 weeks for one reason or another, and boy, I didn't miss a thing because what I did miss was completely compensated by the fact that I wasn't struggling with crappy software and bugs.

I routinely tell friends and family who don't yet have a computer - "your're not missing anything, $2000 just to read email and browser the web 3 hours a week isn't worth it".

They're catering to businesses (1)

waynem77 (83902) | more than 13 years ago | (#577152)

I've always insisted on high-reliability computer components for my own personal stuff. However, at a former job (names deleted to protect the innocent), reliability was second to cost. A distant second.

As the (entire) IS staff for the company, I butted heads several times with the company president and his insistence on buying cheap (in both price and quality) components. The hardware philosophy of the company was essentially "Buy cheap. If it breaks, have it fixed while using a backup system." As the person who returned the faulty components to the store, set up the backup systems, called customer support, etc., this was a real pain in the neck.

Some anecdotes:

  • Once I asked for an ethernet adapter. The next day, when I got to work, there was a box on my desk, wrapped in plain brown paper with the words "Ethernet Card" scrawled in magic marker. No logo, no docs, no nothin'.
  • A co-worker once asked my advice on an ethernet adapter for his home system. I made my recommendation (3Com something-or-other). he exclaimed, "3Com?! That could cost up to $30!"
  • My monitor broke one day. The tube blew. I sent it back to the company and received a replacement. The replacement worked for 3 hours, and then blew out. I sent it back. The replacement's replacement wouldn't even turn on. I sent it back. I pled with my customer support representative, "Could you please have someone plug in the monitor and turn it on before you ship it to me?" It took two months to get a working monitor. I wrote a graphic, vitriolic memo detailing my experiences for all the managers. As far as I know, they're still buying from that company.
  • The company never threw anything away. I mean never. After all, they could be used for backup systems someday. I was always embarassed having to say, "Well, I'll get your Pentium 2-450 with Win95 replaced. In the meantime, you can use this 386 with DOS. Heck, you don't really need a GUI. Or a CD-ROM. Or a 3.5" floppy drive."

Anyway, my point is: computer companies might just be responding to market pressure. Component quality won't improve unless businesses (not individuals) demand it.

Re:Can't resist (1)

ooPo (29908) | more than 13 years ago | (#577153)

BWAH! I've only purchased *one* Matrox card, a G200. I wanted to use it for OpenGL, which was advertised on the box.

OpenGL didn't properly arrive on the card until just before their next generation came out, and even then it was subpar.

As a result, I bought a TNT1. I've been happy with nvidia ever since.

Sure, Matrox may test extensively, but they certainly didn't bother to finish the job.

buy a mac (1)

mrsalty (104200) | more than 13 years ago | (#577154)

if these folks cited in the article, and the author, are so unhappy with te quality of the their computer then they should buy MAC. there is a reason they are more expensive. they are thoroughly tested, all 3rd party hardware has to meet standards, as well as software. if people cared more about quality and less about $$$ then the PC clone industry would choke on its own lousy products.

-ps i use cheap hardware becuaz i am cheap

Lack of Distinction (4)

rgmoore (133276) | more than 13 years ago | (#577155)

One thing that bothered me deeply about the article is that the author made very little distinction between hardware and software quality problems. I realize that this probably reflects the majority, non-tech view of computers (the computer is a unit that succeeds or fails as a unit, not as hardware or software) but it made the article less comprehensible. Most of the specific problems that he talked about sound as though they were hardware problems, but the experts he consulted were talking about curing software reliability. This is probably reasonable, since reliable, high quality hardware is available, and the companies that produce junk often go out of business when people stop buying their crap. Of course high quality, reliable software is available too, but most desktop PCs don't use it. I'm inclined to agree with the closing statement of the article: we won't get high quality software until companies suffer financially from putting out crappy software.

Re:My escapades with Acer (1)

excesspwr (218183) | more than 13 years ago | (#577156)

Needless to say, I think twice before buying Acer, now.

What made you think buying a system that has more holes than swiss cheese built into the design, of the monitor alone, a good idea?

Re:Burning an Anti-Japanese Strawman (1)

humpmonkey (202226) | more than 13 years ago | (#577157)

Greed and class strife are killing US industries

Just out of curiosity, which industries are being killed?
with humpy love,

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (1)

Maurice (114520) | more than 13 years ago | (#577158)

I think they also installed a big inertial stabilizer on the top floor of the building. It might not be the same building though. Also, IIRC, the Hancock building in Boston had problems with windows falling down from the external walls and for years the pedestrian areas under the building had to have protective ceilings installed.

Better is the Enemy of Good Enough (5)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#577159)

From the article: "Critics of Humphrey's high-quality software regimen -- which imposes strict performance measures on programmers -- protest that it cramps creativity. ... 'It's a good thing for the technology that so few people are disciplined in the way Humphrey proposes,' grumbles a techie reviewer..."

This critic misses the whole point. There are places for creativity. Two good examples are the R&D department and process review and improvement meetings. But creativity is not necessary when crafting a quality, reliable product. In fact, it gets in the way of reliability.

Now, I know this isn't going to be a popular argument on Slashdot, but sometimes good medicine tastes bad. Consider it this way: how would the auto industry appear if autoworkers felt it was their perogative to "be creative" while doing assembly line work? This is exactly what programmers act like. The smart auto companies give their line workers time to be creative, during process review, so that they can concentrate on quality the rest of the time.

I know, the analogy between autos and computers breaks down quickly, and it breaks down pretty damn early with software. But there's still a point to be made. Many programmers (and engineers), especially young ones, are too eager to be doing the "elite" work, that they don't pay attention to detail. They want to go straight to designing better suspensions instead of just installing the struts. (I know. I've been there.) But it builds character to do the rote, mundane work - you learn how to check your work as you do it, and fix errors as they are made, so that you or someone else doesn't have to come back and fix it later. This talent is especially necessary in programming.

Perfect example: If your attention is focused on writing the slickest, most 31337 bubble sort for the product your team is developing, you are going to introduce more errors than if you had just instantiated the algorithm you've used a hundred times before. But creativity isn't necessary here. Just implement the function that's needed. If they had needed a high performance sort function, it would have been in the requirements handed to you when you started. As the first Project Engineer I worked under used to say: "Better is the enemy of good enough."

The fact that Chennai's Advanced Information Systems company has achieved the astonishingly low 0.05 per kloc defect rate, and that 22 of the 28 companies with a SEI Level 5 cert are in India, demonstrates that the Indians understand this point, and proves the "techie reviewer" dead wrong. He sounds just like another 'leet code jockey who's whining because Humphrey's telling him he can't doodle in your POS transaction software anymore...

Can't resist (2)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 13 years ago | (#577160)

The thing that pops into my mind as far as quality control is concerned is "Matrox". They are just about the only VGA-card producing company that refuses to bring the card on the market before the drivers are finished, extensive testing is complete etc. This results in them launching their cards later than the competition and relatively expensive, causing them to lose a big bite out of the profits. The upside is that a lot of semi-knowledgable users who switched to Matrox never switch back, so they do have a loyal user base. BTW, they're not entirely on their own, ATI does a pretty good job on testing before the selling as well...

Pretty vague. (1)

kugano (84704) | more than 13 years ago | (#577161)

I wish the article had given some more specific details. I've never encountered a problem like this, and don't really know anyone who has, either. So I have trouble swallowing all the article has to dish out solely on the grounds that the Gartner Group says that some laptops fail, sometimes.

Nah, it's $ (2)

Delphis (11548) | more than 13 years ago | (#577165)

I know it's a cut-throat industry, but customer satisfaction should be the ultimate goal.

Nope, it's the almighty buck that's the ultimate goal. $$$$$$$$$$$


Open Market (2)

swagr (244747) | more than 13 years ago | (#577167)

To make money, suppliers must give consumers what they want. (This does not stop suppliers by creating a false demand but that's not my point).
My point is, most shopping for technology is price oriented, not quality oriented... and the suppliers have responded.

But you can't... (4)

Atomic Frog (28268) | more than 13 years ago | (#577169)

If you push up the software quality, make sure it rarely (never?) crashes, and you do proper studies to make sure it works the way people expect it to work, then our economy goes bust!

- No more tech. support jobs
- No more "Word 97 for Dummies" books
- No more "Learn Windows 95 in 1 week!" books
- Much less upgrading because that word processor you purchased 5 years ago still works like it should and there are no bugs to fix, contains _only_ the features you use, so no upgrade needed

Look at the car industry. All you ever do is gas up and take in for maintenance every 12-24000km.
(Okay, unless you're one of those dummies who bought a Chevy Cavalier...)

Re:End User Quality Assurance Checking (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 13 years ago | (#577171)

And have that user decide to buy from another company in the future, only to find out it's exactly the same with them. Ah well, I guess that's why I won't have to worry about a job anywhere soon. Tech-support has it's advantages. Too bad it also has it's downsides [] .

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (2)

rho (6063) | more than 13 years ago | (#577178)

Perhaps one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the NY skyline, the Citibank building, has just such a flaw in it. The way it was originally designed, if it had encountered winds over 78mph it was at serious risk of collapes (due to poor design of the steel framework, IIRC).

Sort of -- it wasn't a design flaw, but a contractor error. Rivets were specified, but bolts were used instead. The bolts would shear, rivets wouldn't.

The wind problem wasn't just winds over 78mph, but winds at a 45 degree angle (corner winds). NYC code didn't specify for these winds, which normally wouldn't matter. The problem arose because the land owners (Catholic church) specified that the church on the corner couldn't be torn down. So, the main structural supports were in the middle of the sides instead of the corners. That's why corner winds were a problem.

The really COOL part of the building's design was a "dampener" on the top floor. It was a several ton block of concrete that moved opposite to the buildings sway, thus dampening the sway of the building.

The repairs were made in secret, but as the hurricane approached, the public was alerted to the problem. Luckily, repairs were finished, and the hurricane wandered off into the Atlantic.

(Girlfriend's an architect -- we watch a LOT of TLC/Discover/

Re:What about the software (3)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 13 years ago | (#577180)

No kidding -- I'd say the worst, by FAR, is Sony.

I had a guy show up at a presentation with a Sony laptop, and we had to make a change to his display settings and reboot for it to work right with the projector.

His Pentium 3 800 mhz laptop with 128 megs of RAM took literally 7 minutes to boot, because Sony was auto-loading over a dozen different programs at boot time.

Our VAIOs, while great machines, have software that I have no clue what it does. I can't just remove it because I know it's involved with all the sony doo-dads (like the video camera, the scroll wheel, etc) but there's no indication what software does what, or whether any of it is critical or just fluff.

My first task with my latest Dell desktop: boot it once, make sure it works, Ghost the drive (just in case), immediately wipe the disk and rebuild it sensibly.


Re:What about the software (1)

Marasmus (63844) | more than 13 years ago | (#577182)

Agreed. I actually have benchmarks proving that a particular four-letter Major PC manufacturer's default installation of NT workstation 4 is outperformed by a 100% to 200% increase in all file I/O, all IPC, and 30-75% decrease in program load time, all by reinstalling NT workstation from scratch, installing the right drivers, and applying the latest service pack.

A "fix" to this is to install a certain Big-Name caching program (nine letters long) which speeds up disk I/O, most of the IPC, and some of the load time. This Major PC manufacturer is negotiating a license with certain Big-Name caching program creators, which will increase the price of their business workstations by at least $100.

I won't even go into what happens when I build a custom PC with next-to-identical parts... the hardware is just as bad as their packaged software :(

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (1)

ResHippie (105522) | more than 13 years ago | (#577183)

I'm not going to say that your version of the story is wrong, but that's not the way I heard it.

The building was designed to be contructed with welds, not bolts, but then the contruction crew decided it was cheaper to use bolts, and so they did. Once, the designer found out about what had happened, he figured out a way to fix it, because not doing so would have caused the building to fall over, and take out a good portion of Manhattan.

At least that's the story that was told in my Engineering Design class.

personal relevance. (1)

saintlupus (227599) | more than 13 years ago | (#577186)

When was the last time I called tech support? I can't really even remember.

when was the last time someone reading this page worked in tech support? i'm in a call center right now, and i'd be willing to bet there's two or three dozen people reading slashdot right along with me right now.

When/what was the last computer I bought?

when was the last time a self-proclaimed geek was involved in the production of a computer or a piece of software? and what are the odds that he or she reads slashdot too?

computers aren't an object for the 133t 386 users like you any more. they've changed culture. not always in good ways. that's why these stories are plenty applicable to the "news for nerds" headline.


Re:This is about as personally relevant... (1)

talks_to_birds (2488) | more than 13 years ago | (#577188)


Let's try this again.

"Troll" -- hell!
by talks_to_birds
on 13:49 Wednesday 06 December 2000 PDT

Crikeys, kids!

Is there no one else here who builds and maintains their own boxes?




Hey! this'll show up in the post statistics to show the advertisers at the next marketing meeting.

Don't knock me! I'm doing my part for /.

I think not; therefore I ain't ®
When source code is outlawed, only outlaws will have source code.

There! That's better!

I think not; therefore I ain't®

Re:Quality control (and releases) (1)

desertfool (21262) | more than 13 years ago | (#577190)

About 2 years ago I got 15 (brand "X") laptops to install for my users. Of those, 7 had to go to get repaired right out of the box. They had never been tested because they failed instantly and had to have motherboards replaced.

It took two years for my employer to change to another vendor. Eventually, people will not put up with it and it will improve as companies lose market share.

poor quality is the savior (1)

Leto-II (1509) | more than 13 years ago | (#577191)

Poor quality software is the savior of procrastinators and slackers around the world. If software stops crashing all the time, we're going to have to think of new excuses. And I don't think "My dog ate my ethernet!" is going to cut it.. :(

Fear my low SlashID! (bidding starts at $500)

Perspective (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#577193)

Putting Things in Perspective:

Success is-

At age 4.....success is...not peeing your pants.

At age 12...success is...having friends.

At age 16...success is...having a drivers license.

At age 20...success is...having sex.

At age 35...success is...having money.

At age 50...success is...having money.

At age 60...success is...having sex.

At age 70...success is...having a drivers license.

At age 75...success is...having friends.

At age 80...success is...not peeing your pants.

Re:Can't resist (1)

Sultanbey (166740) | more than 13 years ago | (#577196)

This wasn't my experience with a G200 a few years ago. It pretty much sucked driver wise. I havn't been back for fear of the same kinds of problems.

Re:Nah, it's $ (1)

Pahroza (24427) | more than 13 years ago | (#577198)

That is true. But it doesn't need to be that way. If you don't please your customers, and they have a choice, they just may not return for additional products. I know I've boycotted quite a number of vendors due to poor quality, customer service, etc.

Re:The author isn't very smart in his comparison.. (1)

Delphis (11548) | more than 13 years ago | (#577199)

Yea, I thought that was a daft statement too, especially considering the relative dates of invention of these products too. It takes a number of years to perfect things, and the basic designs of those other products haven't changed all that much in many of those years. Certainly not to the same extent of computers.


The point (2)

PhiznTRG (261350) | more than 13 years ago | (#577202)

"Not until the consumers demand [quality] and get it from overseas will the reigning companies believe," he e-mailed me. "American computer and software companies are making too much money in the current environment to care."

That pretty much sums everything up - all the other examples are just icing on the cake. The computer industry has no reason to change thier practice as long as the consumer is willing to shell out money for buggy code.

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