I’m starting to believe that developers of very small applications (widgets, applets, plug-ins, etc.) are not taking software quality seriously. The fact that their own codebase is small doesn’t mean that they have fewer defects per line of code. Further, often their “mini-apps” live inside large, complex software products with complex interaction behaviors. The simple apps may not get exercised simply at all.
The quality of mini-apps is becoming a big problem because there are simply so many of them. The categories I have in mind specifically are:
- Browser toolbars and plug-ins for all major browsers: lots of crashes there
- Applets: even major players such as AOL, which bought XDrive have issues.
- Desktop software add-ins, e.g., the ones for Microsoft Office.
For example, recently I’ve come to the opinion that Outlook add-ins are uniformly buggy. It used to be that Plaxo and LinkedIn would routinely fight over objects and crash Outlook. My solution was to put them on a separate Outlook instance running inside a virtual machine. I use them when I need to but I don’t let them run all the time. My email processing performance improved noticeably. The virtual machine trick is something I do a lot for non-essential apps and especially mini-apps. For example, I blog using Windows Live Writer, both because it is built by friends and because it is the best blogging editor out there. However, it only comes with the IE toolbar whose many extensions are not the most robust out there.
Recently, I had a problem with Kaspersky’s anti-virus mail add-in and Nobex Contacts kept causing access violations on shutdown. Yesterday, I discovered that the source of a rather peculiar email behavior was a bug in the Getting Things Done add-in I was using to help me adopt Inbox Zero. I’ve since removed it from my system.
Why can’t folks write better Outlook add-ins? I’m curious to try Xobni but not if they haven’t invested seriously in QA.