Are software certification standards helpful to users?

Before buying software in a box with the word "certified" on it, ask what the term means

Before buying software in a box with the word "certified" on it, ask what the term means

Certification is part of our everyday lives. If someone wants to buy a toaster, for example, there is a whole range to choose from and one would also look for one with a British Standard "kite" mark.

Why? What does this symbol stand for?
What we think it means and what it really means are completely different things.

Some people believe it means quality. But, if you read the standard's specification, it is not about quality at all, but about safety. "Certified" toasters won't burst into flames.

So, what about software certification, logo and partner certification schemes? If you go into a PC store you will see that many of the software boxes have a logo in the corner saying "certified for " or "ready for "

We are told, "Don't use uncertified software." We are taught to demand software that is certificated. Using software that is certificated makes us feel safe. But what does "certified" mean?

Is it the same as for the toaster: it is good quality, it is going to work and it is not going to upset other software, especially software from the same certification issuer?

No. There is far more to certification than this. However, you will need to wade through the certification document to find out. And while you are reading, bear in mind that the certifier does not have the same type of independence as the British Standards Institution.

After reading the first few pages you'll reckon, "Yes, that's all good quality stuff." Keep going though, and about 80% of the way through you will think, "Hang on, this isn't about quality."

What you're reading about now is that in order to gain certification, software must use the certifier's latest whizzo gadget(s) in a "non trivial way".

You ask yourself, "Do I care? Is it good for me?" It could be bad for you. Let's look at how it was a decade or so ago. In the 1980s we felt we could be held to ransom by the then proprietary manufacturers. Open systems were good.

They meant that if a manufacturer was getting too big for its boots and put its prices up too much, we could say, "No, we'll move to another 'open' platform."

But the software which uses the certifiers' latest gadget(s) "non trivially" means it is going to be very difficult to make that software portable to anything else. It won't be "open".

So now you are tied in officially, by your own demands. You and the software have been - assimilated.

In fact, if you're looking for software that is truly portable, it may not be able to get the certification logo. After all, it won't be a mark of its quality or acceptability - more a desire on the part of the manufacturer to remain open.

So, which of these is good for you?

Frank Puranik is global technical director at integrated management software specialist Heroix

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