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!

FOCUS: But...

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 version.

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 basis.

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, not technically.

Executive Summary:

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.