Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Programming Software Technology

We Really Don't Know Jack About Maintenance 260

davecb writes "The ACM has been kind enough to print Paul Stachour's and my 'jack' article about Software Maintenance. Paul first pointed out back in 1984 that we and our managers were being foolish — when we were still running Unix V7 — and if anything it's been getting worse. Turns out maintenance has been a 'solved problem in computer science' since at least then, and we're just beginning to rediscover it."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

We Really Don't Know Jack About Maintenance

Comments Filter:
  • Grrr (Score:2, Insightful)

    "Software maintenance" has absolutely nothing to do with computer science. I wish people would stop calling business programming computer science. Computer science work gets done at universities and research institutions, not at Initech.

    • Re:Grrr (Score:4, Informative)

      by MrCawfee ( 13910 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {eefwacrm}> on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:26PM (#30125060) Homepage

      How do you design software that is able to be maintained? Many of the techniques for software maintenance are designed by these institutions, so saying "Software Maintenance" is not computer science is a bit far fetched. Writing maintainable software isn't only in the Initech domain.

      And really if you are excluding software maintenance from the field of computer science, you pretty much have to exclude every other software technique. Techniques for writing maintainable code go hand in hand with every other development technique.

      • Development methodologies have nothing to do with computer science either.

        • by Zalbik ( 308903 )

          Development methodologies have nothing to do with computer science either.

          Sorry for the ignorance, but is that true in university courses as well?

          I have a degree in mathematics (with a few CS courses), and a technical diploma in Info. Systems. My IS courses had a very strong emphasis on methodologies and writing maintainable code. I've always assumed a CS degree would have the same, along with the CS theory.

          If not, that explains some of the code I've seen written by some very bright people. Some of it (n

    • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:49PM (#30125202)

      "Software maintenance" has absolutely nothing to do with computer science.

      Actually, it does.

      I have a real Computer Science degree, so I know what computer science is about. And while a lot of corporate programming is more drudgery and form assembly than anything, there are a lot of applications of computer science in the real world - from scalability issues in large systems, to proper use of encryption.

      Furthermore the supposedly boring area of "Software maintenance" has a ton of research potential focused around the optimal path to producing correct code. Do code review help? How to team dynamics factor in to code quality? Does Test First really improve code? What even defines code quality? There are programs within companies that experiment with different methods to improve code output, and those experiments are even more valid than ones performed at research institutions since they work on a real-world code base solving a real problem using real people. In fact I would go so far as to say and research being conducted outside of a company on aspect of code quality improvement is pretty much worthless, which is why it's important for researchers to partner with real companies for some studies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I have a real Computer Science degree, so I know what computer science is about...

        Except what you go on to describe is software engineering, not computer science. I'm not picking gnats either; the distinction is very real, and I would hope it wouldn't be lost on someone with a "real Computer Science degree."

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You're using the new definition of CS not it's traditional meaning.

          The combination of academic elitism, a societal trend toward specialization, and a CS tendency to sub-divide complex problems have combined to split the traditional, interdisciplinary Computer Science into multiple sub-fields in the last decade.

          Traditionally we had Computer Engineers to design and build hardware and Computer Scientists to design and build software to make use of those devices. (The business world added Computer Information S

          • Hopefully after another decade folks will see the folly in over-specialization.

            You mean, as science advances fields will get more and more specialized and specialization won't stop?

          • I concur that the definitions of Computer Science and Computer Engineering are changing, but what bothers me is the lack of understanding of many foundations of computer science to be found in CS graduates.
            I've been interviewing a lot over the past couple of years. I mostly look for people who demonstrate good problem solving, intelligence, some knowledge of the subject, and the ability to enter into technical discussions.
            But it's disheartening when many graduates haven't done algorithms, data structures,

          • I'm a fan of precise language. It has nothing to do with elitism, and of course I realize that applied science encompasses many disciplines. I find nothing wrong with incorporating more specific terms as these areas of research are refined.
        • Except what you go on to describe is software engineering, not computer science.

          True the latter part of my post is less pure science. But that does not mean it is not valuable too, which is why I went on to mention it even though somewhat tangental, and is as worth of research as more "pure" computer science issues would be.

      • by pchan- ( 118053 )

        A Turing machine cannot solve the problem of software maintenance. You cannot model software maintenance as a finite state machine. There is no algorithmic solution. There is no space-time trade-off that you can make improve the situation.

        It is not a problem to be solved by computing. It is outside the realm of Computer Science, and clearly in the lap of Software Engineering.

        • A Turing machine cannot solve the problem of software maintenance.

          That is true but does not mean it's not a valid sub-field with equal importance. The same kinds of issues exist in "real" engineering disciplines where a plan must go from conception to reality involving many different people.

          • by pchan- ( 118053 )

            I completely agree with you, it is a very real engineering problem that requires serious academic examination. This is a good candidate for something like that Software Engineering Institute []. The issue is one of writing software and managing a code base. It is a logistics problem. Maybe it can only be solved by a new language or method of source control or verification. In that area, yes, it's open to computer science to explore. But in general, it's a code architecture, testing, development methodolo

        • Computer Science is not limited to things that can execute inside a turing machine. A large body of computer science is made up of correctness proofs - which, strangely, weren't written by programs running on a universal turing machine, for one example...
          What is and what is not in the realm of Computer Science is not defined by what can run inside a turning machine.
          I also doubt that the turing machine will be the end of Computer Science.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      I beg to differ, in my computer science classes at the University of Missouri Rolla, they taught us software maintenance to go along with our programming classes. It is for more than just business software or application software it can be used for system software as well as operating systems, firmware, database applications, and everything else except the kitchen sink (but we are working on that one, he heh heh:).

      If you don't do maintenance for your software, it is a lot like not doing maintenance for your

      • You got it dude.

        The problem is management is flat out fucking stupid
        and only worried about their stock options.

        Fucking stock options have screwed everything up for
        over 20 years now.

        The dumb ass pointy hairs can not recognize a
        good programmer because they are push-button.


        Proper software development is properly done correctly
        up front, with *PLANS* for maintenance.

      • Warning: This message may contain cynicism that some people may find offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.

        But they were so blind to see that the work I did while it was an expense, it saved then millions of dollars in lost productivity, lost CPU time, cost savings in not needing to buy faster processors and more memory as my code ran tight and compact in lower ones, and days if not weeks of downtime and a dysfunctional system and software that takes them years to fix by hiring high priced contractors to do the work I would have done for my small salary.

        It seems like it takes an inordinate amount of effort to sell doing maintenance/cleanup to management types, and I don't know enough about psychology or the "business" mindset to understand why that is. Let us know if you figure out the secret to being a high-priced contractor while still having a conscience and some integrity. I suspect that the most essential component of success as a high-pai

    • Don't kid yourself, genius.

      Efficient software maintenance is directly related to the Halting Problem. I'm sure you could figure out a thesis about it. Or at least a proof.

      Besides, "business programming" involves many things, some of which includes problems (for example, my field, aerospace) that are ridiculously complex, certainly at least as much as a good 80% of any CS degree or thesis.

    • This article really doesn't have much to do with computer maintenance either. It is trying to address software maintenance from the point of view of a software developer, but it reads as though it were written by an academic who hasn't actually worked in the industry for years, and who is just trying to get credit for a publication.

      It first categorizes different ways of maintaining software, with no real rationale for choosing those categories, then goes on to describe a versioning system that somehow m
    • Re:Grrr (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lennier ( 44736 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @11:53PM (#30125574) Homepage

      ""Software maintenance" has absolutely nothing to do with computer science. "

      And that attitude is EXACTLY why computing still sucks.

      If it involves computers, and it's an interesting unsolved problem - and guess what, a LOT of real-world problems turn out to be extremely interesting and extremely unsolved, full of all sorts of corner cases and exceptions to previously supposed 'laws' - then it's computer science.

      System administration is like artificial intelligence. It's a human-centric job involving a lot of common sense, and it can't always be readily automated because the rules keep changing. That ought to raise warning flags. .Like vision or language recognition, a lot of scientists seem to think administration is so easy that only dumb people bother to investigate it. So they don't. But that's the opposite of the truth. Humans are still stuck doing rote maintenance precisely BECAUSE it's so tricky to do that computers can't yet do it. Which means it's very, very interesting.

      A sensible approach to computer science would treat all phases of the development and deployment of information, computing and communication systems as computing systems in themselves. Yes, that involves crossing disciplinary boundaries. Perhaps that's more cybernetics or systems thinking or linguistics or sociology or psychology than computer science as it's currently narrowly defined itself to be. But in that case, computer science has defined itself out of the interesting part of the game - the impact and use of computing in the real world and what parts of this can and can't be predicted and automated - which would be a very sad thing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        ""Software maintenance" has absolutely nothing to do with computer science. "

        And that attitude is EXACTLY why computing still sucks.

        If it involves computers, and it's an interesting unsolved problem - and guess what, a LOT of real-world problems turn out to be extremely interesting and extremely unsolved, full of all sorts of corner cases and exceptions to previously supposed 'laws' - then it's computer science.

        No true. Software Engineering solves a lot of unsolved problems without having to do computer science. Computer Science is about theory, not implementation. Computer Science deals with the Universal Turing Machine and treats all computers like it. Computer Science programs tend to not discuss how to do things with efficiency or with limited resources.

        Computer Engineering programs tend to talk a little about Computer Programming; but mostly focus on the engineering behind computer hardware (e.g. PCI board

    • by Fred_A ( 10934 )

      Computer science work gets done at universities and research institutions, not at Initech.

      That's because computer science isn't good for the company.

  • FTFA:

    Everyone knows maintenance is difficult and boring, and therefore avoids doing it

    Taking code and cutting its size by half, fixing up all the screwed-up inconsistent formatting, while adding functionality and reducing bug counts, is a pleasure.

    It's all in the mindset. It's only boring if you limit yourself to the boring parts.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:39PM (#30125132)

      Taking code and cutting its size by half, fixing up all the screwed-up inconsistent formatting, while adding functionality and reducing bug counts, is a pleasure.

      What company do you work for where it is even remotely possible to accomplish all that and still meet your deadlines? In my world, you always wish you could totally refactor the code like that, but there's never enough time in the schedule for that. So instead, you "make it work" as best as you can, and that's about it. Maybe, if you're lucky, you can find enough time to do at least a partial re-write of the worst parts of the code, or tidy up an interface or two. But cutting the code size by half? Yeah right. I wish.

      • You don't tell them you're doing that ... you just do it. It's quicker anyway. Start by cleaning up the formatting and moving stuff into headers, some righteous macros to make the code more readable, etc., as a first step in "getting familiar with the code. After all, you don't want to break something while fixing a problem. You'll probably notice some code that looks like it's either "copy-n-paste" or dead. Keep it in mind.

        You'll find potential for simplifications as you go along, and you'll also probably find other bugs and stupidities, like parameters that are never used (that happens a lot as code gets modded). Code that doesn't smell right. Signed ints that are unsigned elsewhere. Potential buffer overruns. Unsanitized unput. In-line code that really should be in a separate function call both for clarity and for re-use. Look through the bug list - if the bug (or potential bug) you found is there, great - mark it as fixed. If not, log it, then mark it as fixed. Either way, your fixed bug count goes up - and if you can show that you've fixed bugs before they're found, that's just a bonus.

        Now start a bit more higher-level fixing. Nothing too wild, but if you have to add a bit of functionality, use that as an excuse to simplify the code that it touches. You'll probably confirm some of the dead code from the first step. Remove it. You'll probably confirm cases of multiple instances of copy-and-paste - refactor them as well into something a bit more same. Now you've removed a few more bugs, shrunk the file size, and added some functionality.

        Now that you've done that, review the code again, and look for more instances of copy-and-paste. Code that was written in a hurry will have LOTS of it, so you'll definitely be able to give it some more w8loss treatments. And since you didn't bitch and moan TOO much about making the mods, and they actually work, they'll probably be happy to let you graze on the bug-fix list. There's always bugs, nobody wants to touch them, and as you clean up the code, you'll see it start to shrink.

        A 50% reduction on crappy spaghetti code is reasonable under those circumstances.

        At that point, you own the code. You're in the loop for changes that might break it. When you say, "okay, but it's going to take x time" they're more likely to actually listen. Consider it office politics for nerds.

        • by bjourne ( 1034822 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @12:34AM (#30125770) Homepage Journal

          That's great, until your huge refactoring introduces a new bug. And it will, you can't expect to refactor a decent sized body of code without breaking something. When it does, it doesn't matter that the code is 100 times more readable and extensible, or that you fixed ten other bugs while doing it, your ears will get hot. Because you broke something which means more work for someone else and that the count of outstanding bugs was just incremented.

          This happens in the places where each bug report has to be annotated with about two dozen different abbrevations and numeric codes so that the correct departments and bug examiners will get to look at it. When it takes two hours to file bugs and each bug has to be examined by four persons, you can forget about filing bugs about "potential problems." Bug reports are for the issues customers have complained about and nothing else.

          What about the next bug report that comes on? If it can even remotely be associated with the new code you wrote, then it will be. Because yours is the only new code in what is otherwise a totally legacy code base with hundreds of band aids. Expect to take the blame.

          And then you have the original author of the body of code you just killed/refactored. He wont be so amused about you rewriting in one week what he spent four months writing. Expect to hear nitpicks and complaints from his side. You won't be able to ask him anything about the code anymore because "you destroyed it."

          So yes, while refactoring code makes it better, you wont make many friends while doing it and you are taking a huge personal risk. Especially if you are doing it secretly.

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:36AM (#30126696) Homepage Journal

            That's great, until your huge refactoring introduces a new bug.

            This is why you refactor the code alongside the original. Fix bugs in parallel. When there's a new bug, you roll back to the old, non-refactored code and see if it goes away. If so, you stay on the old, crappy code until you can fix the new, cleaned up code. Then you swap back to the new code. You repeat this testing phase until switching on the new code doesn't introduce any critical regressions, then continue living on the new code for a few months before nuking the old code.

            Yes, this is slower than doing development on a single version of the code, but it's a short-term penalty until the code is cleaner and more flexible, at which point you then make up for the period of slowness in the minds of your bosses by proceeding to successfully add twelve new features in a single week---you know, the ones that have been punted for six years because they were too risky to make in the current fragile code base.

            The trick is to alternate between rewrites and enhancements. Don't stay focused on rewrites too long or you'll seem unproductive. Don't ignore it for too long or you'll find yourself blocked and eventually become unproductive. The only way to survive is to stay somewhere in the middle.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            That's great, until your huge refactoring introduces a new bug.

            You can always make sure you've got some legitimate reason to have done the refactoring/redesign. I got away with rewriting a section of code that the owner of the company had cordoned off with comments like "DO NOT TOUCH, YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS ANY FASTER" because I made it run about 10 times faster. (Honestly, how can you ignore that kind of comment if you like programming?)

            I checked in a bug fix (with unrelated speed improvements included) that introduced another bug, but also dropped application CPU usage

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by shmlco ( 594907 )

          "... some righteous macros to make the code more readable..."

          OMG, somebody fire this jerk. In most cases adding macros MAY make the code more readable for you, but the next poor guy who comes along can no longer look at that section of code to see what's going on, but must now combine the code he's reading with a macro that he can only assume was implemented properly in the first place.

          And if by "righteous" you mean some complex and convoluted code boiled down into a single line... then you should not only

        • It only works if the project is small enough that a sole person or a small team (max 3 persons) can take ownership of the whole code base.

          If you do the cleanup you suggested on just part of the code, you're only introducing "yet another style of coding" to the code base: congratulations, you've just increased the complexity of the code base and made it less stable.

          I've seen this kind of code where multiple people at different times have tried to "enforce their vision" in the code they controlled: without ex

    • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:52PM (#30125232)

      Taking code and cutting its size by half, fixing up all the screwed-up inconsistent formatting, while adding functionality and reducing bug counts, is a pleasure.

      Yes it is.

      But that is not maintenance, as practiced by any rational company. That is development or (more specifically) optimization.

      Maintenance is about solving a problem code is having, with the absolute smallest number of changes possible. Even new features can fall under this heading when software is in true "maintenance mode" in order to avoid a lot of excess testing.

      I actually don't mind it, as it is a different sort of challenge to take a code base you know little about and introduce a working change with as little code as possible. But it's not as glamorous as fresh, raw coding.

      • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @05:43AM (#30127148)

        I believe that no developer can ever become a good or great developer without having done significant maintenance on someone else's code - your really only learn the true value of "coding for maintainability" (i.e. basics like commenting complex code, avoiding copy and paste, fail-fast code and such) when you're landed with fixing/improving code that was done without any such concerns.

        That said, software maintenance is often a frustrating, painful process in anything but the freshest of code (and sometimes even is code "just out of the over").

        It's especially unpleasant when one is faced with fixing/changing software where some or all of the design or the code were done by (often long gone) less experienced software developers.

        The bad news is that as you become more experienced you see more and more "glaring problems" with the design/coding on any system you have to fix/improve, which can be infuriating at times (for example, when the design and development of an important sub-system was given to a team composed wholly of average/below-average developers with 4 years of less of experience and you are tasked with fixing it)

        The good news is that the outsourcing wave has caused a bubble in IT in India, resulting in loads of people joining IT for the money (most of which should never have done so) so there is a whole lot of really, really bad code out there which will be providing freelancers (like me) with highly-paid maintenance work for years to come.

    • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @11:01PM (#30125288)

      More likely, the code was written and documented badly in the first place, so it's not a matter of taking it and cutting it down into something more elegant. Instead, it's about trying to decipher exactly what's going on, then trying to figure out how to make it at least superficially better while trying to keep within the same crappy framework. This has to all be done within budget, or the work done will go to waste when the project's scrapped, and there won't be a budget for maintenance again.

      Maintenance isn't a rewrite from scratch to do the same thing, as much as we'd like it to be. Production systems have to be kept up. Migration to new code has to be both backwards compatible and produce enough visible results to make it worthwhile. It can't be too big of a change, nor too little. It's hardly any wonder software developers don't get to, and managers don't want to do it.

      • You're there anyway - why not clean it up a bit. Every file you touch, clean it up (because people in a hurry always leave a mess). It'll help decipher what's going on, so you're less likely to fubar something.

        Do that often enough, and the code becomes more workable, and you'll begin to see duplication that can be remedied with no impact, as well as find a few errors. Check the bug list - if you've found the source of a bug, tell the powers that be that, while doing the mods, you found the source to bug

      • by shmlco ( 594907 )

        "Maintenance isn't a rewrite from scratch to do the same thing, as much as we'd like it to be."

        Meaning that you can't figure out how the previous developer did what he did, and if you rewrite it from scratch at least YOU will understand it.

        Unfortunately, that doesn't help the next developer, who's now totally unable to read and parse your brilliant semi-logical code...

        And wants to rewrite IT from scratch.

    • Well, I once realized, that all code basically is "throwaway code". Meaning, that you only can do proper evolution of a software project, if you do a complete rewrite from time to time.
      That is, because the basic usage and purpose of the program changes with time. New, better paradigms get discovered, etc. And they don't fit with the old basic architecture.
      If you just endlessly patch them on top, you get something like Windows ME, Internet Explorer, or MS Office.

      So you make clear cuts: You stay with the old

    • Not only PHB (Score:3, Interesting)

      by omb ( 759389 )
      In the early 70's I had the pleasure of working with both Prof. Tony Brooker and I.R, MacCallum, both of whom had made major contributions to the Atlas timesharing system, Brooker had designed and MacCallum implemented most of the Compiler-Compiler, a meta system that included a parser generator and an MDL with interpreter to walk the parse tree and generate code. I bring these guys up to make a simple point, both were skilled technologists in their own areas, but as many University academics, they were nar
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by syousef ( 465911 )

      Taking code and cutting its size by half, fixing up all the screwed-up inconsistent formatting, while adding functionality and reducing bug counts, is a pleasure.

      Clearly you've worked only on code that needs a bit of tidy up. Try reading code that hasn't been documented well if at all, and looks like it's been run through a code obfuscator (ie not just poor formatting), then realising that not only is the task the code is suppose to accomplish not documented, but the people who wrote the original code left

    • He is talking about the need to version protocols to simplify future change, you're talking about code refactoring which usually don't change the interface..

      I've needed worked on a project where we used 'versionned protocols' though :-(

  • by Hyperhaplo ( 575219 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:16PM (#30125000)

    No, I'm serious. It's the latest Trend (tm).
    Cut the IT production support budget, cut the IT staff, move the functions that used to be IT Prod support to business and let their budget handle it.

    If you can't see the humour in seeing a business person make direct live updates to a database table in Production (IT doesn't have Production access.. but Business does .. [go figure]) then you probably can't see that SEV1 sailing in from over the horizon to make your day just that little bit more special.

    As for business editing files directly in Production because the cost of having IT do it (process - backup file, edit file, copy file to prod with due authorisation, verify the change) can just be avoided.

    After all, we don't really need to pay for Production Support and System Maintenance and Documentation. The system works without these things, doesn't it?

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • But I really love maintenance. Sure, the job comes with tremendous amounts of stress but it really entertaining. In CCNA, there's nothing better than subnetting a large network :)
  • by Lord Grey ( 463613 ) * on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:31PM (#30125098)
    • One Iteration Planning Meeting (minimum four hours in duration)
    • One Integration Planning Meeting, to schedule changes with all other changes (minimum three hours in duration)
    • Twenty Stand-up Meetings (two per day for ten days) so everyone can tell each other why they're behind on the planned changes
    • Two scheduled Backlog Meetings to reschedule the planned changes that won't make it into this iteration
    • Six presentations to the Senior Management Team of at least one hour each to communicate our effective Change Management Strategy
    • At least three Tag-Up Meetings, called spontaneously, because some people still just don't get it, originally scheduled for 30 minutes each but extended to 60 minutes because exactly one person in the room wanted to argue
    • One Retrospective Meeting, which no one wants to attend because they're already behind on the backlog tasks
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

      See, I've always looked at meetings primarily as a way for project managers who have no technical work to do on the project to feel like they're doing something.

      In fact, this purpose explains the following relationship:
      Number of meetings per week = Stress level of project manager / Time remaining before project deadline

      So early on, you can expect a kickoff and a couple of weekly status meetings. As the deadline begins to loom, suddenly you're looking at 2-3 meetings per day per developer, with many meetings

      • As the deadline begins to loom, suddenly you're looking at 2-3 meetings per day per developer, with many meetings getting called at the last minute.

        Wouldn't that hurt the problem by taking developers off getting the project done to talk about what needs to be done?

        • by jweller ( 926629 )

          You must still be in college. Your reason and sense isn't welcome out here.

          • Really? I am (in college) and they are not very well liked right here either. I keep telling them a smart ass is still smarter than a normal ass.
    • by NoYob ( 1630681 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:58PM (#30125266)
      You know, if you numbered them, then you can write a book (of course add a lot of fluff and unsubstantiated horseshit) called "The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Software Teams", have it published, be a huge hit, milk the fucker with another book called the "8th Habit", workbooks, do lectures at $50,000 a pop, and after a couple years, retire rich!

      Dipshit PHBs would be buying them left and right!

    • And nobody to take charge and responsibility for it all.

      A project done well needs a strong leader who can manage both the needs of the users, the coders, and upper management. Only then can things happen. Without somebody like that, all you'll get out of it is an office tug-of-war between all of the interests. It's why leadership and direction are such important qualities in management, and why companies try to hire and keep the best.

      In fact, it's why the CEO having a vision of where the company's going, an

  • A lot of admins are pretty wary of throwing the latest and greatest on their boxes for the simple reason that it may, or shall I say, will break things. Its no fun to throw a service pack on to find it has nuked your installation, or upgrading your mail server to find out that your configuration isn't global to the new version. Now that sort of thing happens. I'm just saying there are all kinds of little issues (or huge ones) that can arrive. At least with older software you already know the faults and are

  • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Monday November 16, 2009 @10:50PM (#30125210) Homepage Journal

    FreeBSD 1 and FreeBSD 2 had slightly different semantics for some system calls, but FreeBSD 2 changed the system call numbers, so it was possible to modify the FreeBSD kernel to run the binary Netscape for FreeBSD 2.x by implementing the new API for one call in the old kernel. Alas, I can't find the patch now, which is embarrassing because I was the one hosting it... about 15 years ago.

  • six sigma (Score:5, Funny)

    by bunbuntheminilop ( 935594 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @11:09PM (#30125336)
    Could a six sigma program help here? A systematic and structured approach to problem solving is needed. Whenever someone fixes a bug that creates a new bug, then it's a waste of everyone time and effort.
    • by Acer500 ( 846698 )

      Whenever someone fixes a bug that creates a new bug, then it's a waste of everyone time and effort.

      Bah, you're doing it wrong. We used to say in my old work that every bug fix created TWO new bugs :) . That also ensured job stability :P .

  • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Monday November 16, 2009 @11:22PM (#30125408)

    Decades ago, companies which developed technology companies. With real engineers, and highly technically skilled management. Today, companies with business-oriented management and zero technology background own and develop systems. They often do it poorly, with insufficiently empowered engineering teams, and insufficiently skilled engineers.

    So today we've got a lot of Java and .Net shops filled with junior-level programmers and no disciplined, experienced systems engineers. Is it a surprise that when MS brought programming to the masses that the masses failed to learn engineering?

    • by pwinkeler ( 413102 ) <> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @01:01AM (#30125952) Homepage

      When I worked at Analogic Corporation [] in the mid-eighties, the then owner/president/ceo Bernie Gordon refused to grant anyone working in software the title "Engineer". We were all "just" programmers. Until we could show him specs and tolerances and statistical failure rates of our designs we were nothing but a bunch of untrustworthy programmers. And you know what? He was right: we still are.

      • by Acer500 ( 846698 )

        When I worked at Analogic Corporation [] in the mid-eighties, the then owner/president/ceo Bernie Gordon refused to grant anyone working in software the title "Engineer".

        In Uruguay (my country), the title "Engineer" is regulated (just like Lawyer, MD, etc..). You don't get a title of "Engineer" unless you have actually studied Engineering.

        And to get a degree in Software Engineering you DO have to study engineering - including ALL the math, statistics, physics and chemistry that other branches of engineering have, which means only 0.0333% of each generation graduates, and I'm not kidding - I started that career with other 1500 students, only 50 of which graduated as Engine

    • No, but whether MS started that earlier. It would not have mattered a bit whether MS brought programming to the masses. Someone would have. Actually, Borland was way ahead of MS with C-Builder and Delphi when it comes to easily accessible RAD tools.

      The core problem is that the need for more software was there, when the amount of good programmers remained more or less stable, or at the very least didn't explode at the same rate as the demand. Think back 25 years, to the time before RAD tools, and notice how

    • History proves that quantity over quality is preferred throughout all human endeavors. Tangible items from mass production come to mind. However, non-tangible items such as ideas (code) also follow this route as well. Don't blame Microsoft. They're merely an example of what's naturally to come.

      • by digsbo ( 1292334 )
        I'm not blaming Microsoft. They did a great job making it possible for mediocre programmers to produce something useful (if not elegant/supportable/extensible). I'm blaming the people who manage the process and substitute hours for thought.
  • and the sentiment is no less true.

    My observation is that we shaven monkeys that make up the human race are fundamentally incapable of maintenance in any sense. Rather than maintain something in as-new functional condition (maintenance) so it does not fail, we choose to either fix it (fixenance) or replace it (buyenance) when it does.

    A factory that makes plastic widgets is just as likely to make these same mistakes in relation to their machinery.

    Just my $0.02

  • by thoglette ( 74419 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @02:17AM (#30126332)

    "we're just beginning to rediscover it."

    In this age of 20yo CEOs and single-quarter companies it's hardly suprising that most software is no better than a rigged demo.

    Just make it shiny enough for someone to buy the company and then let their support staff of MS trained monkeys deal with it

    Then we have the "artists" (in both the software and hardware field) who have survived for twenty years without "all that sh1t". Course, like the CEO, they've gone on to their next challenge long before the chickens come home to roost. And it's not their fault everyone else is incompetent, is it?

    I continue to be amazed, on a weekly basis, by the complete lack of experience shown by the actions and products of very large companies.

    Oh, I reject the claim that

    Software maintenance is not like hardware maintenance, which is the return of the item to its original state. Software maintenance involves moving an item away from its original state.

    The author has obviously never maintained hardware: it has bugs, patches, upgrades just like any other part of your system.

  • Back in the days when RAD and 4GL were new and shiny, I was the second-in-charge of a number of internal scientific/engineering internal software projects for a very large public utility.
    We used FORTRAN, C, SQL and BASIC (for serial line stuff). My really bright boss gave us the following two bits of advice:

    * Understanding code is at least twice as hard as writing it, so write code at half the level that you are capable of - That way, if someone (possibly you) has to look at a couple of years later, you
  • Long, wordy, buzz-word heavy article with a little bit of interesting content buried deep inside. I wish I hadn't bothered to read it.

    In case you haven't, but are thinking you might: you can run machines that are never down, even when software is being updated, if you use a few tricks. I knew most of the one's they mentioned already, and use them on my company website, which is far from downtime-proof, but has a 3-year uptime so far: call my software maintenence status "fairly sturdy".

    If you're interested

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.