First of all let me apologise for not being "on air" recently. I foolishly slipped a disc and caused a few other problems that laid me up over the last few weeks. I would like to say that the damage was caused by undertaking manly activities on the farm, sadly I fear it was more likely from slouching on the settee watching x-factor. Whilst lying on the floor I did have the opportunity to admire the creative genius of spiders and how greedy they are when it comes to flies. I also learned that whilst attempting to watch TV when lying on my back and wearing vari-focal glasses require the glasses to be at 45%, i.e. my left ear needs to be 2 inches higher - time was not wasted.
But now I want to introduce you to the sordid world of the private patch. For some reason this particular issue always makes me think of the song by Madness, House of Fun by Barson and Thompson.
"Good morning miss"
"Can I help you son?"
"sixteen today and up for fun"
"I'm a big boy now or so they say so if you'll serve me I'll be on my way"
Those of you who know the song, and certainly if you are male, will recognise the scenario of desperately attempting to buy one (or three) really important thing and ending up with something totally useless, and certainly not fit for the purpose you had in mind. Software seems to be just like that. You think you buy software that works and does what is says on the tin, but low and behold you have bought something that has a mind of its own and randomises it's operation.
Let me tell you a story, come close....
Once upon a time little Johnny bought three bits of world renowned software, inky, pinky and stinky. They were all meant to do their individual jobs and importantly live happily together. That's what their mummy and daddy said, fibbers - mummy and daddy didn't really know what they were on about.
Firstly inky didn't like to be used too heavily. Whilst on the tin, it said 25 people can use this together, inky didn't like this so added a "go slow" button all by itself and reduced it to 4 (i.e. it locked out each processor for "long" periods of time"). This makes 21 friends (well they were), very unhappy.
Pinky thought that was boring so pinky decided not to save all of the things you had taught it that day, but to add more spice not all the time. So when you came to use inky and stinky the following day it became a mystery tour. This was a real joy for everyone, it made coming to work really fun.
Stinky thought this was also boring. So stinky thought just when you thought you knew what he was doing, he will update himself and introduce half of what Inky does and half of what pinky does, and that way you won't know it is stinky.
Inky, pinky and stinky didn't really like each other much, and whilst everyone thought they would work together, they decided not to bother.
Little Johnny thought, well these things happen, not to worry he will telephone the technical support teams of inky, pinky and stinky and they would help him sort out the gremlins. As ever the technical support teams asked whether little Johnny had looked on the knowledge base. As you know most knowledge bases are self help groups for people with the same problem, but no answer.... and an answer never comes.
Then one of the technical support people said "oh I have heard of this somewhere else, I think we have a private patch". Little Johnny thought his night of fun is on the way but was a bit confused about what a private patch was. The nice technical support man said "well we think it will fix your problem, we don't tell people about it, and you can't use it in a live environment". Little Johnny thought that doesn't sound like fun at all.
end of story... because I am bored with it.
The reality is that individual pieces of software have become increasingly sophisticated and with this sophistication, it becomes increasingly difficult to assure quality. We have always had the issue of integrating software but it appears to getting worse not better. We might all say well that is the world we live in, and I think you are right but it has consequences. I really feel for project managers and SI's, when they take in good faith supposedly quality, widely used software and estimate/bid on the basis of time and capability. The reality is, on occasions, it turns out to be a bit of a lottery. It is also very unhelpful when developers of software do not publish the knowledge they have on problems, even if the problem might seem obscure, or hasn't really been proven as a problem yet.
And as for private patches they should be banned, as the song goes:
"I'm sorry son but we don't stock party gimmicks in this shop"
"Try the 'House of F'un' it's quicker if you run"
"this is a chemist not a joke shop"