Thursday, June 28, 2007

On the unreliability of computers

Speaking of unreliable voting machines: one cause is the bloated, unnecessary complexity of many systems. Crashed cash machines and airport information systems are commonplace, although today was the first time I have seen a crashed supermarket till:

Crashed Sainsbury's till
Not to pick on Windows in particular, but why on earth is a till running a fully-fledged consumer operating system like Windows 2000? Why didn't the designers use something smaller, simpler and much more appropriate — like the free Minimal Real-Time OS?

One reason is the almost-zero marginal cost of software. Having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on developing an operating system, software companies sensibly try to sell that software into every possible market. While the consequences may not be enormous for a supermarket, I am rather less sanguine about (to pick one example) Windows NT for Battleships.

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