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Software Characteristics

Software is a logical rather than a physical system element. Therefore, software has characteristics that are considerably different than those of hardware:

Software is developed or engineered, it is not manufactured in the classical sense.

Although some similarities exist between software development and hardware manufacture, the two activities are fundamentally different. In both activities, high quality is achieved through good design, the construction of a "product“ required but the approaches are different. Software costs are concentrated in engineering. This means that software projects cannot be managed as if they were manufacturing projects.

Software doesn't "wear out.“ 



depicts failure rate as a function of time for hardware. The relationship, often called the "bathtub curve," indicates that hardware exhibits relatively high failure rates early in its life (these failures are often attributable to design or manufacturing defects); defects are corrected and the failure rate drops to a steady-state level (ideally, quite low) for some period of time. As time passes, however, the failure rate rises again as hardware components suffer from the cumulative affects of dust, vibration, abuse, temperature extremes, and many other environmental maladies. Stated simply, the hardware begins to wear out.


Software is not susceptible to the environmental maladies that cause hardware to wear out. In theory, therefore, the failure rate curve for software should take the form of the “idealized curve”. Undiscovered defects will cause high failure rates early in the life of a program. However, these are corrected (ideally, without introducing other errors) and the curve flattens as shown. The idealized curve is a gross oversimplification of actual failure models for software. However, the implication is clear—software doesn't wear out.


 
 
As changes are made, it is likely that some new defects will be introduced, causing the failure rate curve to spike.

Before the curve can return to the original steady-state failure rate, another change is requested, causing the curve to spike again. Slowly, the minimum failure rate level begins to rise—the software is deteriorating due to change.

Although the industry is moving toward component-based assembly, most software continues to be custom built.

The design engineer draws a simple schematic of the digital circuitry, does some fundamental analysis to assure that proper function will be achieved, and then goes to the shelf where catalogs of digital components exist. As an engineering discipline evolves, a collection of standard design components is created. The reusable components have been created so that the engineer can concentrate on the truly innovative elements of a design, that is, the parts of the design that represent something new.

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