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Re: What is quality?

by spiritway (Vicar)
on Jul 29, 2006 at 15:18 UTC ( #564537=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to What is quality?

Unfortunately, words like "quality" aren't clearly defined, so it's easy to claim something has it - or doesn't. Indeed, as you point out, you can substitute the word "gloomf" with no significant change in the accuracy of your statement. I have a tea in my cupboard that claims to be "brisk" - who could argue?

Words like "quality", "reliability", "economic(al)", are aimed at those who make buying decisions. These decision makers often are not software professionals. They may be managers, CEO's, people in a purchasing department, etc. - they don't specialize in software, nor should they. If they're smart, they'll listen to those who do know about software. If not, they'll listen to the sales reps pushing the product, and the best sales rep wins. If your marketing department is effective, you have no need of producing "quality" software.

A prime example of this is Microsoft. Leaving aside the question of whether their software is good quality, their marketing is brilliant. They don't need to put out good software. They've got a hammerlock on the market as far as end users is concerned. They don't even have to convince decision makers that their product is the best; they've gone one step beyond that, and convinced them it's the *ONLY* product out there. They've managed to convince manufacturers to build their computers so as to thwart the use of other OS'es by using such things as the "Win-modem" - a group of chips that can function as a modem, but that requires a driver provided by Windows in order to do it. Yes, these tricks can be circumvented; the point is that manufacturers actually do it.

"Quality" - whatever that means - isn't going to ensure survival in the competitive environment of software. The perception of quality will. Good software with inadequate marketing will likely die; mediocre software with an effective marketing department will likely thrive, if the product isn't too dangerous (note that I am talking only of software sold for profit; I do not include Free or Open Source software, which survives quite nicely without sales reps).

Another issue with "quality" is again related to marketing - a mediocre product available *now* is probably going to do better than high-quality vaporware that will be out "real soon now". Those who take time to test and retest their product, to hunt down those persistent, rare, elusive bugs, are penalized. They spend more money on development, take longer to get it out the door, lower their profits, while their competitors settle for buggier code that's cheaper to make and that starts paying off right away. Those who take the high road - refuse to release a product until it has been tested and debugged thoroughly - may not survive, while those who are content to let the world be their beta testers may thrive. There's the cynical saying, "Hey, it compiled! Ship it." Unfortunately, with the marketing pressures being so intense, this is closer to the truth than we'd like to admit. I can't even say that this is a bad way to do things, within reason. No software can be proven to be bug free. Endless retesting does add to expense, and it also delays release. At some point it becomes necessary to release a product while the need for it still exists, while the price is still within reach of the target market, even if there are lingering issues. We might quibble over exactly when a release is justified, but I doubt many would insist that software must be perfect before it is released.


Comment on Re: What is quality?
Re^2: What is quality?
by eyepopslikeamosquito (Canon) on Jul 29, 2006 at 22:28 UTC

    Another issue with "quality" is again related to marketing - a mediocre product available *now* is probably going to do better than high-quality vaporware that will be out "real soon now".
    Maybe. However, my experience has been that marketing folks tend to oversell the importance of being first to market. Quoting Alan Cooper from The Inmates are Running the Asylum:
    Shipping a product that angers and frustrates users in three months is not better than shipping a product that pleases users in six months ... A third rate product that ships late often fails, but if your product delivers value to its users, arriving behind schedule won't necessarily have lasting bad effects ... Microsoft Access shipped several years late, yet it has enjoyed formidable success in the market. Conversely, if a product stinks, who cares that it shipped on time.

    In 1990, the PenPoint computer from GO was first to market. Then followed the Apple Newton in 1992. Then General Magic's Magic Link in 1994. Finally, in 1996, six years late, the PalmPilot arrived to win the market. Hmmm, let's hope Perl 6 emulates the PalmPilot. ;-) Conversely, can anyone name a current market leader who was first to market?

      Often, however, getting to market faster, before all the bugs are worked out, is the only way to survive. Many companies have gone under after producing excellent merchandise late because of costs incurred and time to penetrate the market.

      If someone beats you to market with something desperately needed, but does so by offering a mediocre finish rather than doing it "right" that someone gets instant market penetration. If you come along later with a clearly superior offering, you could easily steal the market out from under your competitor. For that to happen, though, people need to recognize the quality of what you're selling.

      It takes some time for people to evaluate the new entry into a market that is already "owned", even if only tenuously. Running late on production usually means running over budget as well. Once you get your product to market, you have to be able to survive long enough for people to buy what you're selling. That's when many vendors and producers of the late, superior product falter. So much for your superior product.

      print substr("Just another Perl hacker", 0, -2);
      - apotheon
      CopyWrite Chad Perrin

      You've got a good point there... I can't think of anyone that I *know* was first to market... still, I've seen lots of companies come and go, some of which seemed to have a good product. My impression was that they died because they were too late. OTOH, maybe the difference was that the other company wasn't all that bad to begin with - not *mediocre*, necessarily, just not quite as good. So maybe "good enough, soon enough" is what really wins... You've given me much to think about. Things are never quite as simple as they seem at first look...

Re^2: What is quality?
by apotheon (Deacon) on Jul 30, 2006 at 05:01 UTC

    spiritway, today: "At some point it becomes necessary to release a product while the need for it still exists, while the price is still within reach of the target market, even if there are lingering issues."

    MacUser, November 1990: "There comes a time in the history of any project when it becomes necessary to shoot the engineers and begin production."

    print substr("Just another Perl hacker", 0, -2);
    - apotheon
    CopyWrite Chad Perrin

      That's very similar to something I read about artists - and that I believe applies to software developers. The saying was along the lines of "(an artist|a programmer) doesn't finish a work so much as s/he abandons it." I guess if they won't abandon it, you have to shoot them...

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