Software Bugs - Interview with Bill Gates
In an interview for German weekly magazine FOCUS (nr.43, October 23,
1995, pages 206-212), Microsoft`s Mr. Bill Gates has made some
statements about software quality of MS products [See executive summary,
below]. After lengthy inquiries about how PCs should and could be used
(including some angry comments on some questions which Mr. Gates evidently
did not like), the interviewer comes to storage requirements of MS
products; it ends with the following dispute:
FOCUS: Every new release of a software which has less bugs than the older
one is also more complex and has more features...
Gates:: No, only if that is what'll sell!
Gates:: Only if that is what'll sell! We've never done a piece of
software unless we thought it would sell. That's why everything we do in
software ... it's really amazing: We do it because we think that's what
customers want. That's why we do what we do.
FOCUS: But on the other hand - you would say: Okay, folks, if you don't
like these new features, stay with the old version, and keep the bugs?
Gates:: No! We have lots and lots of competitors. The new version - it's
not there to fix bugs. That's not the reason we come up with a new
FOCUS: But there are bugs in any version which people would really like
to have fixed.
Gates:: No! There are no significant bugs in our released software that
any significant number of users want fixed.
FOCUS: Oh, my God. I always get mad at my computer if MS Word swallows
the page numbers of a document which I printed a couple of times with page
numbers. If I complain to anybody they say "Well, upgrade from version
5.11 to 6.0".
Gates:: No! If you really think there's a bug you should report a bug.
Maybe you're not using it properly. Have you ever considered that?
FOCUS: Yeah, I did...
Gates:: It turns out Luddites don't know how to use software properly, so
you should look into that. -- The reason we come up with new versions is
not to fix bugs. It's absolutely not. It's the stupidest reason to buy a
new version I ever heard. When we do a new version we put in lots of new
things that people are asking for. And so, in no sense, is stability a
reason to move to a new version. It's never a reason.
FOCUS: How come I keep being told by computer vendors "Well, we know
about this bug, wait till the next version is there, it'll be fixed"? I
hear this all the time. How come? If you're telling me there are no
significant bugs in software and there is no reason to do a new version?
Gates:: No. I'm saying: We don't do a new version to fix bugs. We don't.
Not enough people would buy it. You can take a hundred people using
Microsoft Word. Call them up and say "Would you buy a new version
because of bugs?" You won't get a single person to say they'd buy a new
version because of bugs. We'd never be able to sell a release on that
FOCUS: Probably you have other contacts to your software developers. But
if Mister Anybody, like me, calls up a store or a support line and says,
"Hey listen, there's a bug" ... 90 percent of the time I get the answer
"Oh, well, yeah, that's not too bad, wait to the next version and it'll be
fixed". That's how the system works.
Gates:: Guess how much we spend on phone calls every year.
FOCUS: Hm, a couple of million dollars?
Gates:: 500 million dollars a year. We take every one of these phone
calls and classify them. That's the input we use to do the next version.
So it's like the worlds biggest feedback loop. People call in - we decide
what to do on it. Do you want to know what percentage of those phone calls
relates to bugs in the software? Less than one percent.
FOCUS: So people call in to say "Hey listen, I would love to have this
and that feature"?
Gates:: Actually, that's about five percent. Most of them call to get
advice on how to do a certain thing with the software. That's the primary
thing. We could have you sit and listen to these phone calls. There are
millions and millions of them. It really isn't statistically significant.
Sit in and listen to Win 95 calls, sit in and listen to Word calls, and
wait, just wait for weeks and weeks for someone to call in and say "Oh, I
found a bug in this thing". ...
FOCUS: So where does this common feeling of frustration come from that
unites all the PC users? Everybody experiences it every day that these
things simply don't work like they should.
Gates: Because it's cool. It's like, "Yeah, been there done that - oh,
yeah, I know that bug." - I can understand that phenomenon sociologically,
Bug reports are statistically, therefore actually,
unimportant; If you want a bug fixed, you are (by definition) in the
minority; Microsoft doesn't fix bugs because bug fixes are not a
significant source of revenue; If you think you found a bug, it really
only means you're incompetent; Microsoft spends millions each year
convincing people that their complaints are groundless. Anyway, people
only complain about bugs to show how cool they are, not because bugs cause
any real problems.