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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 10/8/2005The search for perfection is all very well, as Sting sang so plaintively, but to look for heaven is to live here in hell. And don't you wish he hadn't?

Wednesday 10/8/2005

The search for perfection is all very well, as Sting sang so plaintively, but to look for heaven is to live here in hell. And don't you wish he hadn't? Nonetheless, he eerily presaged a hellish search for perfection led by American consumer advocates.

Mr Andy Martin of the US Committee to Fight Microsoft (CTFM) said yesterday that he wants Microsoft to offer a warranty to customers that Vista does not include "bad code". He's fed up of MS foisting buggy code on its customers and us all acting as guinea pigs while the problems are ironed out. The company should fix the problems first, he said, and guarantee that the finished product really is finished.

Um. Well, yes, I see where he's coming from. But it's not the real world. Not only can you not write perfect software, you can't even define it. You certainly can't prove it, for some very good mathematical reasons. Even if Microsoft was staffed by superhuman geniuses who thought in hexadecimal and talked in data structures, they could never define exactly what their software would be used for and in what sort of environment.

Which is not to say you can't do better than Microsoft; any operating system that can be attacked and compromised within minutes of connecting to the Internet may not be fit for use. Microsoft has problems in design, project management and QA that are reflected in the final code, and anyone who hangs out on the MS employee blogs may be able to take a shrewd guess at what these might be. The company spends billions on technology R&D and more again on patenting the silliest things; it would get far better returns for much lower investments if it funded a few anthropologists to hang around its management structure for six months.

But "no bad code" is like asking for a sinless teenager. Won't happen. It'll be a bit messy. It won't matter in the end. In fact, in asking for it you're liable to come across as a rather shrill populist who hasn't quite thought things through.

Which has nothing to do with Sting's career, of course, about which the best that can be said is that at least it stopped him being a teacher. Wittering on about carbon 14 being deadly for twelve thousand years and hoping his leg won't break on the moon; the man could have undone a hundred years of education reform.