Feature Article
If buying software was like buying lumber

September 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

I recently was repairing a section of my backyard fence. I replaced over 30 feet of fence. The fence is a 6 foot privacy fence. I was amazed how the lumber yard treated me when I wanted to get the wood.

Finding the necessary 4x4 posts, and 2x4 "framing" lumber was easy. But I needed 75 slats (the boards that make up the appears of the fence). There was a pile full of boards that have been rummaged through pretty extensively. Since I wasn't getting just a few boards, I asked if they could open a new pallet and let me take 75 boards right off the top.

They told me they couldn't open a new pallet until the pile was gone. That left me to look through a pile of boards that already had the best taken. It took me over an hour to pick out 75 acceptable boards. OK, maybe not that long, but it seemed like 3 hours.

Once home and working on the fence I came across 4 or 5 slats that were so twisted and warped that I couldn't use them. This surprised me. I thought I did a good job weeding out the really bad lumber. Obviously one of two things happened. 1) Someone sneaked the bad boards onto my pile, or 2) My eyes got so weary after the first 50 boards that my standards got worse for what I considered acceptable.

This lead me to wondering what it would be like if buying software was like buying lumber. Everyone complains about bugs in software. But what if you could spend the time to give an individual piece of software a quick look, and then decide if its bugs were acceptable.

Imagine selecting software based on each copy having its own unique bugs.

When I say individual piece of software, I mean that each copy of the same title might have different bugs. Can you imaging looking over a copy of Windows 98 that had a problem in dial-up networking, but had no bugs in the file system. And another copy that would lose 1% of all your saved files, but could connect to the internet absolutely perfectly every time.

Which version would you take home. This was what I went through at the lumber yard. I had to look at each piece and decide if I could live with its flaws. I laughed to myself when I though about people buying Microsoft Office on the same terms.

So the next time you complain about bugs in software, keep this in mind... It could be worse, it could be as bad as buying lumber.