Stop putting up with buggy software

The situation is most likely to get worse before it gets better, so make sure you ask for documentation of all system problems 


[Dana H. Schultz] 

If automobiles were as unreliable as application software, Detroit would have been wiped off the face of the earth years ago. It is amazing to think about what we put up with in the way of buggy software — problems we would not accept anywhere else in our lives.

Here are some examples my clients and I have had to deal with recently:

PROBLEM: Microsoft Word 97 has a tendency to corrupt lengthy documents (e.g., those with lots of graphics), rendering the documents unusable.

Defensive maneuver: From the Tools, Options menu, select the Save tab and turn off Allow Fast Save and Allow Background Save.

PROBLEM: DOCS Open, PC DOCS’ document management software, has a specific dialog box that often is not visible to the user. The user thinks that the system is frozen when, in fact, a simple, though invisible, question, just needs to be answered. The result: The user reboots the system, losing whatever unsaved work was in process.

Defensive maneuvers: (1) Train users to recognize the problem and press the key that will properly close the dialog box. (2) Hope that version 4.0 of the product, due in early 1998, will fix the problem.

PROBLEM: WordPerfect for Windows has had, since version 6.0, a bug involving the second-page header in my standard-form memo document. If I click on the header to edit it, the system freezes and I have to reboot.

Defensive maneuver: If I use View, Reveal Codes to double-click on the Delay code, then select Header/

Footer, Header A, Edit, I can successfully edit the header. (Fortunately, I only go through this convoluted process once per memo.)

PROBLEM: WinFax PRO 7.0 was a dog — slow, likely to crash, incompatible with some key software (my contact manager) and a real disappointment to users of prior versions.

Defensive maneuver: I acquired version 8.0, which finally got things right, as soon as it came out.

What to do

Given the increasing speed with which developers are releasing new software, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Those of us who buy shrink-wrapped products at retail probably are out of luck. But those who buy from network integrators have a modest amount of additional protection.

Integrators resent these problems even more than users do, because users hold the integrators responsible for all network problems, even those caused by software developers. So integrators have a strong incentive to identify and document problems, even if they cannot be resolved.

Recommendation: If you are about to upgrade or replace your network, ask the integrator to document all known problems with the proposed software and likely effects of those problems on system performance. That way, you can make an informed decision on whether, when and how to use each piece of software.

The system will not be perfect — but at least you will have advance notice of most problems and the right to expect a remedy if there is a significant problem you were not warned about.

Dana H. Shultz is an Oakland-based lawyer, certified management consultant and speaker specializing in office technology and online marketing. He may be reached by e-mail at dhshultz@ds-a.com and on the World Wide Web at http://seamless.com/ds/.