As automobile engines get more complex, the software that runs them has a correspondingly greater chance of doing something bad. Case in point, in summer 2009 I got a check-engine light on my Civic (also known as the $400 light …). When I brought it in, I was told my catalytic converter was shot, and I’d need a new one to the tune of $1,250. Fast forward two years, and I receive a letter in the mail informing me that there was a tiny lil’ software glitch in the oxygen sensor routines, and I didn’t really need a new catalytic converter after all. I can send in the bill, and and they’ll refund me for the service.
Embedded software engineering is a particularly demanding discipline since it usually involves making complex things happen in tight spaces with little power under extreme environmental conditions. As my catalytic converter incident demonstrates, it also can be a very expensive one for a manufacturer if done incorrectly. Props to Honda for stepping up and making good on the snafu, however.
Of course, not all software runs in confined quarters. Take for example:
Get yer Windows here
Since the dawn of time, the only way to get early releases of Microsoft software (and especially operating systems) was to be a member of their somewhat pricey Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN). If you joined, of course, you got pretty much everything in the world shipped to you on DVDs, but the rest of us had to wait for the official release to get our paws on the products.
Not surprisingly, this has led to a lot of bootlegging of early releases, many of which had malware slipped in as an added bonus. Perhaps to head this off with Windows 8, Microsoft has taken the surprising step of making a publicly downloadable version of the first early release available. That’s right, anyone is free to grab a copy and install it or stick it on a VM, and take it for a drive.
Making a public alpha available also serves to drum up excitement for the new release, something that Vista and Windows 7 lacked. So did I install it? Silly question, children, of course I did. I’d give it an initial grade of “meh.” Microsoft gets points for radically changing things, including better full-screen app support (that looks surprisingly like Lion …), and changing the Start menu to something more like Launchpad. But on the other hand, I found it pretty garish, and some things seem to have been changed just for the sake of change, like putting the address bar on the bottom of the browser.
You don’t need to take my word for it. Grab a copy and see for yourself.
Yet another emerging language …
Somewhere, deep in the bowels of Google, a cabal of developers is trying to overthrow the world by promulgating so many new languages that we descend into madness. Remember Go?
At some point, isn’t it time to step back and ask someone to stop the madness? It seems like a new language springs up every week these days, and I have to ask what is so bad with the ones we have? You know, the ones that Portal 2, Photoshop, Eclipse and many other outstanding software products were written in? The continual fragmentation has got to stop. Unless, of course, Dart is really cool …
Patent news that’s not about a lawsuit
In a perfect world, a developer news summary should never have to deal with the patent system. In the one we’re stuck with, though, patents have become the sledgehammer that software concerns use to beat each other around the head and neck with. The proliferation of bad patents has made software development a minefield, where any new product almost certainly infringes on some junk patent.
It is with great joy that I report that a new patent reform bill is about to be signed into law, and it will solve all of our — oh, never mind.
The legislation heading to President Obama’s desk does pretty much diddly over squat to fix the broken United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The major change is a shift from “first to invent” (where companies get to dig through their engineering notebooks to prove that they came up with the idea first) to a “first to file” system, where the first person to get the patent through the door wins.
What’s missing is a provision allowing the USPTO to keep the money it raises so it can pay for enough personnel to actually do the job properly. Instead, patent fees will continue to flow into the general fund, while overworked patent office examiners rubber stamp questionable claims and make life interesting for those of us who create code.
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