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07.24.10

Deadly Proprietary Software

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Windows at 1:26 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Heart attack

Summary: New examples where Microsoft software helps the causing of many deaths and a word of warning about proprietary software at large, especially in sensitive applications like pacers

CONTACT WITH Microsoft tends to result in commercial deaths [1, 2, 3] even if one is a standards body. Microsoft also exploits deaths to advertise its products [1, 2], which sometimes cause death to actual people [1, 2]. Yesterday we wrote about the role of Microsoft Windows in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The “BSOD” reference gave it all away and even IDG covered it from the same angle, not just Slashdot and some other sites that based their reporting on the federal hearing, usually citing the NYT (for the most part).

A computer that monitored drilling operations on the Deepwater Horizon had been freezing with a “blue screen of death” prior to the explosion that sank the oil rig last April, the chief electronics technician aboard testified Friday at a federal hearing.

“Blue screen of death,” or BSOD, is a term most often used to describe the display shown by Microsoft Windows after a serious crash that has incapacitated a PC.

This one case of blue screen of death may have cost the lives of millions of animals and harmed the health of several human generations to come, not to mention this planet, which is the only planet we have.

Coincidentally, the investigation done by Karen Sandler and a colleague of hers for several months now (Sandler has a heart condition) produced a long report from the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) (direct link given earlier). Glyn Moody writes about it now. It’s titled “Why Free Software is a Matter of Life and Death” and it starts as follows:

As regular readers of this blog will know, free software has an importance that extends way beyond the world of software. But for most people, it’s hard to understand why software freedom is really that important. So this new report “Killed by Code: Software Transparency in Implantable Medical Devices” from the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) provides a handy opportunity to get the message across:

Software is an integral component of a range of devices that perform critical, lifesaving functions and basic daily tasks. As patients grow more reliant on computerized devices, the dependability of software is a life-or-death issue. The need to address software vulnerability is especially pressing for Implantable Medical Devices (IMDs), which are commonly used by millions of patients to treat chronic heart conditions, epilepsy, diabetes, obesity, and even depression.

Secret code (or proprietary software) is a recipe for disaster that should be measurable not just in terms of financial damage; human toll too should start being taken into consideration. Proprietary software is usually all about money, not quality. It shows.

“Ballmer’s modus operandi for dealing with technical issues was to pound on the developers until they caved in to his own unrealistic expectations of what the ship date should be.”

Barbarians Led by Bill Gates, a book composed
by the daughter of Microsoft’s PR mogul

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