By Joshua Mills
N.Y. Times News Service
You've gone software shopping and splurged on a half-dozen
programs, including games and learning programs you hope will
lure your children from the tube, and some tools for your
correspondence and home finances.
Now, sitting at home, you can't seem to get any of them to
You load a CD-ROM and type "D:/install." Your computer
responds, "Cannot find file." How can this be, you wonder. The
CD-ROM you installed yesterday worked just fine.
You are not alone. As software companies try to produce
ever-more-wondrous programs, consumers' problems with installing
or using software are growing, too, largely because the computer
industry has stubbornly turned its back on setting universal
How bad is it? The industry can't even agree on what command
to use to install a new program. Many programs require the user
to type "install," while many others insist on "setup."
"The personal computer is not a toaster yet, where you just
plug it in and it works fine," acknowledged David Trembly,
research director for the Software Publishers Association, an
industry group in Washington.
Stores do not disclose how much software is returned or
exchanged because customers can't get it to work, and the
industry, which closely tracks sales, maintains that it has never
measured how widespread the problem is.
But people who review software estimate that they encounter
problems in roughly a quarter of what they test, even more with
CD-ROM programs. In 1994, problems turned up not just in dozens
of children's programs but in many others, including best sellers
like Word 6.0, Excel 5.0 and Flight Simulator 5.0 (all from
Microsoft), in Norton Desktop 3.0 for Windows (Symantec) and
cc:Mail and 1-2-3 for OS/2 (both from Lotus Development).
Sometimes, the problem is a program that is rushed to market
without adequate testing; sometimes extensive testing fails to
turn up a bug that shows up until someone uses it at home. More
often, software experts say, the problem is incompatibility: the
software will not work with the hardware and software already in
"The percentage that's actually defective is minuscule," said
Jeffrey Tarter, who publishes Softletter, an industry newsletter,
in Watertown, Mass. "A large part of the problem is the hardware
market. There's literally no way a software company can test all
the permutations of hardware with its product."
So consumers suffer, waiting on hold as they dial for
technical help and trying to translate on-screen messages like
"EMM386 has detected error (NU)06 in an application at memory
The vast majority of software problems involve either
producing sound or creating images on screen. …