You pays your money and you takes your choice

Excellent article in today’s Guardian technology supplement by Bruce Schneier, security technologist and author. His hypothesis is that cars are well designed and software is not. This is because car manufacturers face liabilities if they make mistakes but software vendors do not. Further, both the market and the law support the status quo. He writes:

It doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to write quality software. It is possible to sell software products that work properly, and don’t need to be constantly patched. The problem is that it’s expensive and time consuming. Software vendors won’t do it, of course, because the marketplace won’t reward it.

The key to fixing this is software liabilities.

Software liabilities would certainly help concentrate the mind, but so would marketplace reward. However ‘Primark quality for Primark prices’ thinking is unfair and the concept out of date. Custom software for demanding clients was never cheap and well-run companies constantly raise their own bar. Gone are the days when, to misquote Johnson, “(working software) is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

Smart companies know they reap what they sow and the software industry will not keep the lawyers out forever. In the meantime, ‘caveat emptor‘ – let the buyer beware.

Hats off to:

First posted: 17 July 2008 on

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