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Comment Re:We should build software like we build software (Score 5, Funny) 432

Software and houses are not similer.

Of course they are.

For one thing, when people ask an architect to design a new home for their family, it's perfectly normal to call him back six months later in the middle of first fit and say that actually what they need is a skyscraper. With a secret underground lair. And access to open water, so unfortunately the urban site where half of it currently sits is no good and the whole thing will need to be relocated to the nearest coast. And the building regs have suddenly changed, so now instead of concrete and rebars, the whole thing has to be made of environmentally friendly engineered wood materials.

Moreover, just like houses, we have thousands of years of experience building software now. We've become pretty good at telling in advance which techniques will be needed, what order the different components will need to be built in, and especially estimating how long it's going to take and what it will cost.

Actually, maybe it is a slightly unfair comparison, because the amateurs who build physical structures, like that mile-long railway tunnel that was drilled from both ends and wound up out of position by absurd amounts like 4mm when they met in the middle, can't really keep up with software development professionals who can build precisely specified interfaces and get everything to fit together exactly on the first attempt.

That's mostly because the tools and processes for doing all of this in the software world are well understood throughout the industry, which in turn is because everyone practising software development has gone through rigorous training taught by people who are themselves experts with years of practical experience to draw upon. Engineers and architects try to do the same thing, but they just haven't quite nailed it yet. I guess software guys have an advantage here because those tools and processes are universal and uncontroversial, so everyone in software does things the same way and software project managers don't really need to co-ordinate their team to quite the same extent that, say, a lead contractor would when building a house.

But apart from that slight advantage because software development is so much better understood, I think it's perfectly reasonable to compare building a house to building software and expect things to work the same way. There's really no qualitative difference at all, and basically the same processes work just as well for both tasks.

Comment Re:Uh ... What? (Score 1) 320

Unfortunately, in most legal jurisdictions, things are copyrighted out of the gate, and can only become more open with an explicit act.

In every jurisdiction that is a signatory to the major copyright treaties these days. It hasn't been necessary to assert copyright explicitly for some time now, though some places still have consequences if you do beyond merely assigning copyright to the creator of a new work by default.

But the interesting thing is that the "act" you're talking about doesn't actually need to be granting explicit permission to copy a work. If that were true, no-one would be able to, for example, download the files to view a web site or receive an e-mail without either getting the creator's explicit permission in advance or infringing copyright.

As I said before, I doubt a court would hold that merely uploading a file to a site like GitHub is sufficient to grant any implied permissions beyond viewing that file. However, if the legal argument just for viewing it like that is that this is an expected consequence of uploading the file to such a site and therefore the uploader is giving their implied consent (assuming of course that they are able to do so in terms of copyright ownership) then I wonder whether there could also be a slight legal grey area because by an analogous argument we're talking about uploading files to a site whose major use is to share the code so others can also use it.

I'm guessing (as a non-lawyer) that if any case like that ever did come to court, there would have to be some sort of finding of fact about the reasonable expectations of the person doing the uploading to determine what if any implied consent they might be giving, and any time a word like "reasonable" is used in law there's scope for interpretation.

(Obviously it's unlikely that anyone wanting to use the code in a legitimate serious/commercial/public project would just lift it if there were no licence giving them explicit permission to do so. I'm just idly wondering how a real court might rule when faced with a sufficiently devious lawyer.)

Comment Re:Uh ... What? (Score 1) 320

The problem is that the legal framework defaults to all rights reserved unless you explicitly grant rights.

Not in most places, it doesn't. By uploading it to a site where the normal result is for uploaded code to be available via a public viewer, you are giving your implicit consent for people to view it that way, just like anyone visiting any other web site. That implicit consent would probably stand up in court just about anywhere.

IMHO, the interesting legal question with regard to uploading specifically to a code-sharing site like GitHub and implicit consents is whether you might also be deemed to be giving some degree of implicit consent for someone else to use the code in their own projects if you upload it and make it public without stating any explicit licensing conditions. I suspect that one wouldn't stand up, in the same way that putting content on a web site doesn't mean someone else can magically take it and put it on their own site too without infringing your copyright. However, I don't know whether it's been argued in court anywhere, and there is at least a somewhat reasonable argument to be made either way on the same principles as above.

(IANAL, but sometimes I play a wannabe on Slashdot for kicks and giggles. If you get your legal education on an Internet chatroom, you're crazy, etc.)

Comment Re:Cisco "small business" products also aren't gre (Score 1) 284

You are obviously too small of a business for Cisco.

Don't be absurd. You can't possibly determine that from just the information I posted, and somehow I doubt you speak for Cisco or know anything the rest of us don't about their intended market segmentation anyway.

Regardless, we're a small business, using functionality that is beyond most consumer-level equipment, but we're not running offices spanning entire large buildings or multiple sites. Cisco has an entire product range branded "small business", and a bunch of devices with specs on a similar level even if they're not explicitly branded that way. If their products worked, they would meet our needs just fine.

We do have a "proper managed switch". In fact, it's the one Cisco "small business" level device we've bought that actually works properly. Shame about the wireless, NAS, etc.

Comment Cisco "small business" products also aren't great (Score 2) 284

Their "small business" product lines can be very poor, too.

We kitted out a small office with Cisco equipment not long ago. Our expectation was that with Cisco behind it and paying professional-level prices we'd get something with professional-level reliability and support, a cut above the consumer-level junk where just about everyone's devices seem to have poor reliability and/or limited functionality.

The reality is that some of the Cisco equipment just didn't work properly. Firmware updates for some of the devices took a long time to arrive, or in some cases never appeared at all. Some of the products got EOL'd or sold off within a year or two, and it seems like a significant number of "Cisco" products are actually just rebadged products from another vendor with nerfed firmware anyway, even at this level.

Also, as a small business guy doing all the IT, I wouldn't even know who at Cisco to contact for support or how to reach them. We theoretically have an N year warranty, but there's basically no information included with the products about how to take advantage of it, and the Cisco web site is hopeless. All I need is a phone number I can call with the type of product and serial number to get some advice or report a problem, preferably within one click of the home page, but that appears to be beyond their ability. Of course, you can open a support case on-line if you have an expensive service contract, but we don't, and since numerous people have reported similar problems to ours and they never seem to get fixed, it's not clear that such a contract is worth anything anyway.

We now buy mostly consumer kit again, because it seems that even if you pay a premium for Cisco small business kit, what you get is actually as bad or worse as consumer tat. We've found isolated really good products from other suppliers, but they tend to be in niche markets rather than across-the-board kind of product ranges. For example, DrayTek seem to make very good ADSL routers and related devices at this kind of level. If they offered a wider product range of the same quality with basic small office level switches, wireless receivers/range extenders, and so on, we'd switch over in a heartbeat, but sadly they don't.

I am very keen to hear of positive experiences with other pro-grade equipment on a small business or serious SOHO kind of level from different vendors. When we were looking before, there didn't appear to be too many suppliers competing in that market, which was surprising and might have changed more recently.

Comment Re:Hilarious (Score 1) 196

Wonder what the 10,000 have done.

I imagine quite a few simply adjusted the timing so they would take more income from their investments later, assuming the tax regime would then be more favourable. Pretty much no-one with that kind of income is taking it all as a salary from an employer or a fixed pension income, and just about every other kind of investment is going to allow some degree of flexibility in realizing returns.

It was telling that after the coalition government came in, there were suggestions that the 50% tax rate hadn't really caused any meaningful increase in tax revenues for precisely this kind of reason. It will be interesting to see whether the drop in the additional rate to 45% from this April actually costs the government anything, or even increases tax revenues.

Comment Re:Be careful what you wish for (Score 1) 243

We're talking about a scenario where people could be stung for running a plug-in (which they paid nothing for) in a browser (which they paid nothing for). If the regulations aren't going to apply to all software that gets distributed, even stuff that's given away, then they aren't going to do anything to help the problem we're talking about. So I assumed the comments by dreamchaser were intended to apply even in that case.

For the record, I agree that it's an absurd idea that someone who is giving stuff away for free should be subject to regulation like that. I was just commenting on what I thought would happen if they actually were.

Comment Re:Be careful what you wish for (Score 1) 243

Remember, technical excellence is not what drives success. If you don't agree with that, please explain why bg is a billionaire. Or Zuckerberg, for that matter.

I'm not sure this is particularly relevant to the main debate, but I'm just going to point out here that both Microsoft and Facebook have solved numerous challenging technical problems in order to produce the dominant software they have. If you'd said that technical excellence was not the only thing that drives success, I would certainly have agreed with you.

Any mass market industry is going to require standards and regulation as it matures.

Perhaps, but the words "as it matures" matter. Software development is a young industry. Most of us don't know how to do it to an engineering standard yet. Arguably no-one really does, though clearly a few projects have been much more successful than most. (But exactly none of the ones I'm thinking of used the currently trendy "best practices" that I would expect to see heavily promoted by consultants with vested interests if the industry were to be regulated prematurely.) As far as I'm aware, absolutely no-one has shown how to build software with engineering-level robustness at a similar cost to the development methods widely used today.

So in the java and browser situations we have everyone's gramma or whatever dependent on this software.

Perhaps you've found the problem right there. Maybe businesses/governments running systems that involve significant risks shouldn't be relying on their customers/clients/citizens running cheap (mostly free, actually) software produced by others for critical tasks? You can go after the people who give that software away freely as the cause of security/privacy/reliability worries, but I think you're aiming at the wrong target.

Those banks you don't want to die have plenty of resources to develop desktop clients and mobile apps that connect securely to their servers over the Internet without relying on anyone else's browsers and plug-ins if they want to. They choose not to, presumably because they've evaluated the risks and benefits and they've concluded that it is more effective to provide on-line banking via web sites. If the costs of going down a different path are greater than the losses due to fraud in on-line banking, it's not cost-effective to go down that other path. And if going down that other path has usability implications that mean some people simply won't use the service at all, then maybe a potentially flawed approach that people find useful is still better than a less flawed approach that people don't.

Comment Different kinds of customer (Score 5, Insightful) 250

It's one of many downsides to a global economy. With seven billion prospective customers you can afford to target only those who are stupid and lack self-respect. The rest of us are boned, all we can do is bitch, and refuse to go along with the stupidity.

Sadly, one thing the big tech success stories of recent years have proved beyond any doubt is that a lot of people will place convenience and cheapness above almost anything else, including quality, customer service, respect for privacy, etc.

This will continue unless and until enough people (a) make it clear that they would prefer to have a better product and better service from the business running it, and (b) are willing to pay enough actual money for it that it becomes commercially attractive.

What we seem to have today is a curious distribution of customers/commercial interest. There are mass-market, cheap and nasty products that make money on sheer volume (or even make money based on the mere expectation of making actual money from sheer volume one day). That includes the "you are the product" services where you don't pay any money at all to use them. To some extent it also includes creative industries with the ever-present IP and black market/piracy issues. Then there's a middle-ground, where the products and service are qualitatively better than the cheap junk and the price is higher accordingly, but there are enough people paying the higher price to keep these offers accessible below the die-hard specialist/enthusiast/elite market who will pay just about anything to have the best possible stuff. And finally, sometimes there are very high-end products that do a much better job and come with good service, but they have a much smaller potential market because of the price tag they come with, so it's mostly only that enthusiast crowd who buy.

Unfortunately, often that middle ground doesn't really exist in a given market because it's too hard for commercial organisations to identify and target it, and sometimes the high end of the market is barren or empty as well, leaving cheap junk the only option left. Economic theory might suggest that if enough people want better products and are willing to pay more for them then someone will come along and fill the gap, but so far that theory isn't standing up well to modern market dynamics where competition doesn't always work as well as it's "supposed to" for various reasons: literally global networking effects, artificial barriers to competition, and other such factors that can create a huge advantage for an incumbent with a mass market cheap and nasty product and a war chest.

I'm optimistic that this is just growing pains as we learn to cope with the implications of modern technologies and truly global markets with near-instant feedback, and that in time (perhaps after the global economy recovers from the current extended mess) new players really will enter the markets and start to compete on genuine quality and customer service again. If it becomes clear that this is still a viable option, then it's possible that businesses who treat their customers well could take advantage of the same modern efficiencies and word-of-mouth advertising to rise rapidly, and I think cultural change from apathy to acceptance or even positive support for such models is not only plausible but potentially something that could happen very quickly if momentum builds.

However, I fear the situation is going to continue deteriorating for a while longer before it starts to pick up, and I do worry that an entire generation may be growing up never knowing the alternatives or understanding the hidden prices they pay for what they use today. It's going to be hard for cultural change to happen if a significant chunk of the population have no concept of what the alternative might be.

Comment Be careful what you wish for (Score 5, Insightful) 243

I really hate saying this because I am mostly libertarian and wary of too much regulation, but I think it is high time that there are regulations akin to those imposed on other engineering disciplines put into place over software that is used in 'e-infrastructure' such as banking, etc.

Be careful what you wish for.

As a professional software developer, I find the poor choices made by big name software companies very frustrating, and I'm well aware of the cumulative damage caused when software used by many people fails.

On the other hand, if you mandate heavyweight regulation in such an industry, you're going to see prices go up significantly, and a lot of useful free-as-in-beer software would probably disappear almost overnight because the people writing it are going to be reluctant to accept engineering-level liability for work they do at charity/PR level prices.

Then you'll get some sort of approved person/recognised competency qualification, probably administered by some bureaucratic organisation with expensive membership fees and a lofty title, possibly backed by law so people can't even practise software development without jumping over the officially sanctioned barriers to entry any more, or at least such that you can't get professional insurance policies to cover your engineering-level liabilities without playing the game.

Oh, and since there are about three people on the planet who actually know how to write really robust software and they're all in very high profile jobs already, that organisation is instead going to be run (or more likely "advised" by some sort of "expert panel") by the kind of smooth-talking consultants who move from one fad to the next, making lots of money on the upside and then running away before they have to face the consequences of their expensive advice. You know, the ones who use terms like "Agile" and "software craftsmanship", but who can't manage to write a Sudoku solver or who think there are no more programming languages left.

In short, if you want to stifle genuine innovation in the industry by people who really are competing on quality or exploring better ways to write software, and ensure that all you ever get is junk written by people who are more interested in competing on compliance with "quality standards" and exploring better ways to make money from software, regulation is exactly how you do it. In time, we'll learn how to build software better and people who make the effort to do so will be able to compete on genuine quality, but until we have learned how to do that with some level of consistency, any attempt to turn software development into some sort of engineering profession is doomed.

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