Software Engineering : The Process and Product

CHAPTER 1

THE PRODUCT

Computer software is a big thing. It is a key factor that differentiates modern products and services. It is embedded in systems of all kinds: transportation, medical, telecommunications, military, industrial processes, entertainment, office products, etc. Software is virtually inescapable in a modern world.

Computer software is the product that software engineers design and build. It encompasses programs that execute within a computer of any size and architecture, documents that encompass hard-copy and virtual forms, and data that combine numbers and text but also includes representations of pictorial, video, and audio information.

From the point of view of a software engineer, the work product is the programs, documents, and data that are computer software. But from the user’s viewpoint, the work product is the resultant information that somehow makes the user’s world better.

1.1 THE EVOLVING ROLE OF SOFTWARE

Today, software takes on a dual role. It is a product and, at the same time, the vehicle for delivering a product.

As a product, it delivers the computing potential embodied by computer hardware or, more broadly, a network of computers that are accessible by local hardware. Whether it resides within a cellular phone or operates inside a mainframe computer, software is an information transformer producing, managing, acquiring, modifying, displaying, or transmitting information that can be as simple as a single bit or as complex as a multimedia presentation.

As the vehicle used to deliver the product, software acts as the basis for the control of the computer (operating systems), the communication of information (networks), and the creation and control of other programs (software tools and environments). Software delivers the most important product of our time information.

The lone programmer of an earlier era has been replaced by a team of software specialists, each focusing on one part of the technology required to deliver a complex application. And yet, the same questions asked of the lone programmer are being asked when modern computer-based systems are built :

• Why does it take so long to get software finished?

• Why are development costs so high?

• Why can’t we find all the errors before we give the software to customers?

1.2 SOFTWARE

Software is instructions (computer programs) that when executed provide desired function and performance, data structures that enable the programs to adequately manipulate information,and  documents that describe the operation and use of the programs.

1.2.1 Software Characteristics

When hardware is built, the human creative process (analysis, design, construction, testing) is ultimately translated into a physical form. If we build a new computer, our initial sketches, formal design drawings, and breadboarded prototype evolve into a physical product (chips, circuit boards, power supplies, etc.).

  • Software is developed or engineered, it is not manufactured in the classical sense. Software costs are concentrated in engineering. This means that software projects cannot be managed as if they were manufacturing project.

figure 1.1

  • Software doesn’t “wear out”. Figure above these text 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.

figure 1.2

  • Although the industry is moving toward component-based assembly, most software continues to be custom built. Modern reusable components encapsulate both data and the processing applied to the data, enabling the software engineer to create new applications from reusable parts. For example, today’s graphical user interfaces are built using reusable components that enable the creation of graphics windows, pull-down menus, and a wide variety of interaction mechanisms. The data structure and processing detail required to build the interface are contained with a library of reusable components for interface construction.

1.2.2 Software Applications

It is somewhat difficult to develop meaningful generic categories for software applications. As software complexity grows, neat compartmentalization disappears. The following software areas indicate the breadth of potential applications :

System software. System software is a collection of programs written to service other programs. Some system software (e.g., compilers, editors, and file management utilities) process complex, but determinate, information structures. Other systems applications (e.g., operating system components, drivers, telecommunications processors) process largely indeterminate data.

Real-time software. Software that monitors/analyzes/controls real-world events as they occur is called real time. Elements of real-time software include a data gathering component that collects and formats information from an external environment, an analysis component that transforms information as required by the application, a control/output component that responds to the external environment, and a monitoring component.

Business software. Business information processing is the largest single software application area. Discrete “systems” (e.g., payroll, accounts receivable/payable, inventory) have evolved into management information system (MIS) software that accesses one or more large databases containing business information.

Engineering and scientific software. Engineering and scientific software have been characterized by “number crunching” algorithms. Applications range from astronomy to volcanology, from automotive stress analysis to space shuttle orbital dynamics, and from molecular biology to automated manufacturing.

Embedded software. Intelligent products have become commonplace in nearly every consumer and industrial market. Embedded software resides in read-only memory and is used to control products and systems for the consumer and industrial markets.

Personal computer software. The personal computer software market has burgeoned over the past two decades. Word processing, spreadsheets, computer graphics, multimedia, entertainment, database management, personal and business financial applications, external network, and database access are only a few of hundreds of applications.

Web-based software. The Web pages retrieved by a browser are software that incorporates executable instructions (e.g., CGI, HTML, Perl, or Java), and data (e.g., hypertext and a variety of visual and audio formats).

Artificial intelligence software. Artificial intelligence (AI) software makes use of nonnumerical algorithms to solve complex problems that are not amenable to computation or straightforward analysis.

1.3 SOFTWARE MYTHS

Most knowledgeable professionals recognize myths for what they are misleading attitudes that have caused serious problems for managers and technical people alike. However, old attitudes and habits are difficult to modify, and remnants of software myths are still believed. There are so many myths diveide into Customer myths, Practisioner, and Management.

Customer myths. A customer who requests computer software may be a person at the next desk, a technical group down the hall, the marketing/sales department, or an outside company that has requested software under contract. In many cases,             the customer believes myths about software because software managers and practitioners do little to correct misinformation. Myths lead to false expectations (by the customer) and ultimately, dissatisfaction with the developer.

Myth: A general statement of objectives is sufficient to begin writing programs we can fill in the details later.

Reality: A poor up-front definition is the major cause of failed software efforts. A formal and detailed description of the information domain, function, behavior, performance, interfaces, design constraints, and validation criteria is essential. These characteristics can be determined only after thorough communication between customer and developer.

Many software professionals recognize the fallacy of the myths just described. Regrettably, habitual attitudes and methods foster poor management and technical practices, even when reality dictates a better approach. Recognition of software realities is the first step toward formulation of practical solutions for software engineering.

1.4 SUMMARY

Software is the key factor of computer-based products evolution. Software has become the limiting factor in the continuing evolution of computerbased systems. Software is composed of programs, data, and documents. Each of these items comprises a configuration that is created as part of the software engineering process. The intent of software engineering is to provide a framework for building software with higher quality.

Reference : Software Engineering : A P R A C T I T I O N E R ’ S A P P R O A C H 5 edition. Roger S Pressman.

Related post -> Software Engineering : The Process and Product Chapter 2

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