The Danger of Custom Software

The Movie Vanishes

My kids enjoyed this DR tale from Pixar.

There’s been a great little movie short making the rounds of the Internet from Pixar. It’s called “The Movie Vanishes” and it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Toy Story 2 was almost lost because of a mistake and some bad luck at Pixar.  This was at a time when the company was successful, and certainly should have been able to better prepare for a disaster. If you want a touch more background, there’s a few other notes at Quora.

A lot of the software that Pixar uses was written in house. That’s a double edged sword because there isn’t anyone that can stand behind the software, other than the people that wrote it. There might not be adequate testing and there are certainly bugs in the software that may lie dormant for years. I have no idea of any of the bugs inside Pixar’s software caused this disaster, and I’m not implying it did.

The positive side of building your own software is that you know how it works. You have the source code, and if you have a developer that can understand it, you can fix problems, patch issues, and customize it to suit your needs. As long as you have the time and resources to do so.

I saw someone write recently that building their own monitoring solution for a set of SQL Servers was easy, but that was the smallest part of the job. Maintaining and enhancing it over time were much larger jobs than setting up monitoring. This person said they’d rather buy a package in the future than build their own again.

If you have a system set up, it probably makes sense to use it, but as you look to develop new software, whether for monitoring servers or handling sales, it might be worth spending a bit of time trying to determine if there is something out there you can buy, which might be well tested, vouched for by other customers, and be easier to integrate than your own system.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

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2 Responses to The Danger of Custom Software

  1. Steve,

    I agree that there is merit in using third party sw, because the third party usually has more resources to maintain and support said software. Also, you benefit from all the feature requests and bug reports of the other customers of that software. However, you can realize the second benefit by giving away your software or open sourcing it.

    Of course you can also choose to sell your home grown solution, and hire people to maintain it full time. but there are few instances where that “pivot” is feasible.

    Now lets look at one of the most popular free SQL Server tools, SSMS Toolpack, by Mladen Prajdić. Its a tool he developed for himself that he later decided to share with the world. Its donation-ware, so its basically free unless you feel generous.

    For the slight bit of overhead of distribution, Mladen gets bug reports. Some are whiny, but some are useful. Other people find edge cases so he doesn’t have to. As Linus Torvalds said, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” If he chose to open source it instead, he’d gain the efficiency of receiving patches. I think its safe to say that his tool is popular enough that he would actually receive patches. There would also be other efficiencies from open sourcing his solution. First of all, he could distribute it on github, codeplex or some other forge. That would reduce his hosting costs. Secondly the forges come with free tools such as forums which would enable a mechanism for the community to be self supporting.

    I agree that open source and freeware is not the answer for everything. However, it has its place.

  2. way0utwest says:

    Good points, and that makes some sense. Mladen could get help with the product, but he’d also then get overhead in dealing with the help. Linux is a full time job for quite a few people, just to manage the patch integration.

    I have talked with companies about releasing some of their code, with they idea they’d get patches, but sadly I haven’t had any takers.

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