Users demand quality as suppliers fire accusations of software piracy

IT directors were left seething this week after major software suppliers branded them software pirates, while at the same time...

IT directors were left seething this week after major software suppliers branded them software pirates, while at the same time producing poor-quality software.

Software industry group the Business Software Alliance has accused UK industry of mass piracy, claiming that 26% of business software is used illegally. The allegation was made against a backdrop of suppliers refusing to be accountable for launching software that hits users' productivity with the continuous patching it requires. Senior IT users have questioned the credibility of the BSA's figures.

IT departments are bombarded with constant updates to the commercial software they use. In one instance, an IT director in a manufacturing firm complained to Computer Weekly that he has had to apply 629 patches to Sun's Solaris operating system in the past six months.

Last week Microsoft issued a patch to fix a serious flaw affecting the version of Internet Explorer in Windows 2003, just six weeks after the new operating system shipped.

Margaret Smith, IT director at Legal & General, called on the software industry to lengthen product cycles. "Software companies are closing the cycle from when they release a product to the next release," she said. "If you are already running the software and the supplier brings out a version with bugs, you risk a failure in your production system."

Ben Booth, group IT director at market research firm Mori, said quality assurance was being skimped on. "I don't see any obvious signs of it getting better," he said. "I would like to see the IT industry grow up a bit. Software suppliers should think more about what their customers need. In a lot of areas they are not crying out for more functionality."

David Roberts, chief executive of the Corporate IT Forum, Tif, said suppliers need to create "alternative processes" for improving software in the development and testing stages. "We need a radical rethink in the development of software," he said.

Tif is so concerned about the issue of software quality that it is considering holding a conference on the issue later in the year.

John Lister, newly appointed IT director at private healthcare provider Bupa, has been outspoken in the past on the issue of stiffing - sharp software practices - calling for a value-based code of conduct to be agreed between software suppliers and IT users.

"Software maintenance is still a significant part of our costs - something we do not get value from, which is a continuing theme," he said. "Everybody is seeing that the behaviour of suppliers deteriorates if you let it. But when the business cycle goes into upturn, suppliers will find that customers have long memories."

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