There's nowhere to seek refuge if your software starts out extra buggy

“What’s the deal with Microsoft Windows 98?” the Rat
muttered from his lead-lined cubicle.


The furry one had just heard that Microsoft Corp.’s first service pack for Win98
was going into beta testing only a couple of weeks after the operating system made its
debut.


The cyberrodent was afraid he knew what was going on. Instead of shipping out hundreds
of thousands of beta copies for marketing purposes, as it had with Windows 95, Microsoft
is instead selling the beta version of Win98 as a finished product.


The outcry from thousands of notebook computer users who’ve been unable to get the
OS to work properly must have registered on Microsoft ears even before Win98 went out the
door. But the corporate chieftains obviously ignored the outcry in favor of getting
product onto shelves as soon as possible.


“Why the rush?” the Rat wonders. Was it because Microsoft needed more cash
flow to pay its legal expenses in fighting the Justice Department’s antitrust suit?
Not hardly. Was it simple greed?


After all, the wired one mused, it’s not as if Microsoft is the only company that
pushes unfinished products out the door. Many vendors follow the time-honored accounting
procedure known as, “It’s the end of the month, ship it!”


Once the product is out the door, the vendor can send invoices and then turn attention
to adding what’s necessary to make the shipped product work—an upgrade, field
maintenance, technical support, whatever.


Netscape Communications Corp. has been another ship-it-out offender. Communicator 4 got
to Version 4.05 before it was truly shipping-quality software. And some of the Rat’s
users still haven’t gotten over the unfinished WordPerfect 5.0, especially
WordPerfect 5.0 for Unix.


It seems that software vendors now view their output as more a service than a product.
The Rat wonders if that’s because they find it easier to explain why their software
is always a work in progress.


Even though Microsoft was in a rush to get Win98 out the door, the Rat certainly
isn’t in any rush to put it on the agency’s computers.


He and his cabal tried a limited test deployment, looking for an installation strategy.
It wasn’t pretty. At full network bandwidth for one system, it took almost an hour to
perform an automated upgrade on a 133-MHz Pentium PC. For each additional simultaneous
installation, the length of time required grew exponentially.


The wired one did the math. There was no way that unattended distribution, even to the
agency’s smallest workgroup, could be finished overnight. And he didn’t feel too
sanguine about unattended installation.


Microsoft’s deployment kit for Win98 is designed to push disk images down to
desktop PCs across the network. Disk image deployment means wiping whatever is on the
users’ disks in the process.


To be sure, the whiskered one sees a certain sadistic appeal in such an upgrade route.
But the additional installation time and effort required to redeploy all the applications
previously on all those systems is enough to give him paws—er, pause.


Now that there’s a major bug fix in the works, the Rat at least has the ammunition
to squelch user demand for the new OS.


“Do you really want to fry your laptop?” was all he had to say to stop the
department head in his tracks.


“Hmm. I’ll have to remember that line for future upgrade questions,” the
furry one mentally noted.  


The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad
packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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