CASE: WHY SOFTWARE FAILS Developing software is a complicated task. Even when done diligently by…


Developing software is a complicated task. Even when done diligently by competent people with good intentions, failure is a possibility. This section discusses some causes of software failure. As we shall see, a programming bug isn’t the only possible cause of software failure. The following case, although inspired by real events, is fictional.

Some years ago, before the time of the Internet, over six thousand chemists from all over the world registered to attend a particular professional conference. Some were to come alone, while others were to be accompanied by their families. The conference organizers planned to have receptionists provide each chemist with a packet of registration materials (such as room assignment, convention schedule, etc.), which were to be stored in large cardboard boxes. The boxes, and the envelopes within the boxes, were to be arranged alphabetically by the last name of the registered chemist. Naturally, in order for this plan to work, it had to be possible to identify each chemist’s last name on the registration form. Unfortunately, the form included only a single blank labeled “Name.” That made it difficult to identify each chemist’s last name because of the variety of ways people had chosen to write their names in the blank. Some example entries were:

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