Quality and the Internet Appliance

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  • render the appliance a cute but non-working paperweight. We spent a lot of time testing at boundary conditions to ferret out these kinds of problems.
  • Performance modeling and load testing go hand-in-hand. You can’t be too careful about making sure your server farm has enough capacity. We started with a combination of performance simulations, based on certain assumptions about usage profiles. During testing, we checked the results of this simulation, and, where we found discrepancies, investigated them. This provided us with a high degree of confidence that unforeseen capacity issues did not await us.
  • Localization is strategic and involves more than just standards and certification. A recent report by Forrester Research indicates that Web e-commerce will grow 100% in Europe every year for the next five years (Spiegal, 1999). Beyond just testing the hardware for regulatory compliance, one must make sure that the entire system—including ordering, provisioning, and fulfillment—will accommodate language, time display, time zone, cultural issues, and so forth.
  • The Web waits for no one. Web technologies, such as Javascript, Shockwave, and RealAudio, continue to evolve rapidly. Web sites launch these new technologies on the World Wide Web within hours of their advent. One must select a device, an operating system, a browser, and other applications that can harmonize with the Web now and can adapt to new Web technologies. We tested the harmonic aspects of the appliance heavily, and, as our findings show, this was fertile bug-hunting territory.
  • Attachment support decisions require trade-offs. There are hundreds of file types floating around on the Internet. Supporting all of them is impossible, even on a PC. The simpler Internet appliance must support a subset of these transparently, then handle the unsupported ones elegantly.
  • Filtering software remains imperfect. Any Internet appliance that targets kids or teenagers will need to address the issue of what Internet content can be safely delivered to children. This goes beyond simply sexual imagery. The Web, as we found in our testing, is rife with what many in our society would deem hateful, dangerous, or violent pictures and text. There are also many sites that, while well intentioned, may provide curious children with information their parents deem inappropriate.
  • E-commerce is still flaky. A recent study by Andersen Consulting found that, out of 480 purchases on 100 sites, only 350 were successfully completely (Orr, 1999). Our findings were similar.

To summarize, one can say that quality, for an Internet appliance, is determined by the extent to which the device and the supporting system become invisible to the customer, transparently enabling and simplifying the Internet features he or she wants to use.

8. Beyond the Case Study
Far from being a narrow case study, software quality professionals can generalize our techniques and findings to a wide and rapidly expanding world of Internet and other information appliances. Both the technical and the non-technical press are giving developments in the information appliance arena a lot of ink. For example, two articles about Internet appliances in a popular computer magazine dealt with the use of digital wireless and in-flight phones as Internet appliances (Nash, 1999). One article predicts a growth from 1.1 million Internet-ready phones now to 79.4 million such devices in 2003 (Grotta, 1999). A national news magazine published a major article—including a side-bar on our client’s system—about the evolution of the information appliance (Holstein, 1999). Software quality professionals helping to develop these devices and services will face challenges in connection performance and reliability, usability and user interface design, cached content, customer-transparent software upgrades, server load simulation, extensive manual testing, and harmonizing with the Internet.

9. Conclusions
Information appliances not only

About the author

Rex Black's picture Rex Black

Rex Black is President and Principal Consultant of RBCS, Inc., a consultancy that provides testing experts worldwide, serving clients such as Bank One, Cisco, Hitachi, IMG, and Schlumberger in consulting, training, and hands-on implementation. He has written Managing the Testing ProcessCritical Testing Processes, and numerous articles, along with presenting papers and keynote speeches at international conferences.

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