Three Certainties: Death, Taxes And Bugs

 
 
By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2000-12-04
 
 
 

After my recent review of Netscape 6, i received e-mail from several users who had encountered bugs in the new Netscape browser. This got me thinking about bugs in general and how they affect every business and computer user out there. n Many years ago, I worked in quality assurance, and I learned then that there is one near-certainty when dealing with software: Anything slightly more complicated than the code for a programmers first "hello, world" is going to have bugs.

With this in mind, what level of infestation is acceptable? When do bugs cross the line from being acceptable to being serious? Is the criterion severity alone, the number of bugs or the number of users affected? Also, several problems reported to me werent actually bugs but were, instead, changes based on strategic decisions made by Netscape and Mozilla.org.

For severity, I think we can agree that anything that causes reproducible crashes for all users is serious, as is any security hole that puts users systems at risk. But how about a bug that causes regular crashes but only for users of a specific video card? Is it serious enough to hold back a release?

These questions lead to the one about the number of users affected. For vendors, this is probably one of the most important factors. What percentage of the installed base must be affected by a bug before it is serious enough to halt release of a product or require an immediate patch?

A high number of bugs is damaging, even if none is considered serious. Ive seen plenty of comments from users saying, "Sure, it has a ton of bugs, but I can still get my work done." However, a lot of bugs, no matter how harmless, is a clear sign of sloppy coding and not something you want to use for important work.

Finally, theres the difference between bugs and design decisions. Several users reported that some Web page code no longer works in Netscape 6. This is not a bug; it is a design decision about the use of layers in a Web page.

When the W3C released the Document Object Model standard almost two years ago, it provided a way to do all the things that layers did. Netscape 6 supports this standard, and so the browser no longer supports layers. This is obviously not a bug, but for some readers, it might as well be because the new browser cant read their sites.

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