Bonum Certa Men Certa

Microsoft and the looming software quality crisis

Date: 1998



To: Mary Snapp, Joe DeVaan, Bob Muglie, Rich Tong, Dennis Tevlin, Grant Geprge, Jon Reingold, Jim Allchin From: Steven Sinofsky Date: March 28, 1998 Re: Looming Crisis: Windows Software Quality


Microsoft and the software industry are positioned to experience a crisis in public confidene of the highest order. I realize that this sounds dramatic and I am hardly the first to make such a claim, which tends to make the rounds every few years. This memo looks at the current siltation in our industry regarding the quality of software, both actual and perceived, and how a number of key factors are falling into place that make the time right for a major crisis to unfold.

We are in a difficult situation in that there are no magic answers. The reality of software today is that we barely understand how to build a marketable product let alone build one that is flee from defects, perceived or actual. Our ability to build systems far more complex than we really understand is very real, and somewhat troublesome. in this sense, this memo is written to enlist the help of those that can help to understand and hopefully direct the public perception of this problem, for we must humbly admit that our engineering discipline is far behind the desires of our customers and critics. We should also begin to understand how we might expand the corporate image to include quality, in addition to innovation and cutting edge technology.

As a note. this memo will use a number of words that have specific legal meaning such as defect, monopoly, liability, etc. There is no intent for these words to follow their legal definition, but rather the everyday definition is assumed.


Current Perception

First and foremost, the groundwork for a crisis in software quality has already been in place. It is hard to imagine any customer of Microsoft's or any owner of a PC that does not think of their PC as flaky or buggy and places the blame on Microsoft. Part of this is definitely a perception issue tied to Microsoft, considering that Macintoshes are equally flaky by any measure yet are perceived to be less so (perhaps it is the smiley face when your system crashes and you lose all your work.)

Therre are two aspects to the perception that software just does not work, or fails to meet expectations. First, there is the perception that software crashes and the industry collectively says "well sometimes it just does that." This might remind one of an old Internet musing. If Microsoft Built cars. that contain some gems such as:

  • Occasionally your car would jsut die on the motorway for no reason, and you'd have to restart it. For some strange reason, you'd jusut accept this, restart and drive on.

  • Occasionally, executing a maneuver would cause your car to stop and fail to restart and you'd have to re-install the engine. For some strange reason, you'd just accept this too.

  • Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was twice as reliable, five times as fast, twice as easy to drive - but would only run on five percent of the roads.

  • A second problem with the current way computers are perceived (and are in reality) is that they are just too hard to use. Of course you will get no disagreement from me about how hard computers are to use, but relative to what? One thing that has caught our design and engineering abilities off guard is the incredibly large and diverse customer base for our products. This base is ever increasingly unable to and uninterested in becoming computer users, but rather is more interested in earning their paycheck and moving on to important things in their lives. A view of this reality also must take into account the ever more complex software that Microsoft is capable of building, both because of the increasing sophistication and experience of our developers, our desire to solve more complex problems, and because of the sheer number of people we have on each product ...

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