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What is a Leap Year?

For those of you who have been out of touch during the festive season, on New Year’s Eve reports began flooding across the Internet that Microsoft’s Zune media player was experiencing a worldwide freeze. The glitch, caused by software that did not account for the extra day in the 2008 leap year, apparently affected only the 30GB Zune models released in mid-November of 2006.

The flaw that made Zunes freeze has been tracked down, to a piece of bad programming emanating from Motorola spin-off Freescale.

It shows an attitude all too common within the current breed of programmers - they only code to what is explicitly articulated within the specification. How many of us 'oldies' would automatically insert into all our specifications a generic statement “and don’t forget to cater for a leap year?” What does ‘cater’ mean anyway?

Let’s not knock Corporate institutions like Microsoft or Freescale (save it for when they really deserve it!). Let’s blame the individual programmers who presumably don’t even know there is such a thing as a Leap Year (even though the specification hasn’t changed since it was introduced in 45BC). And then lets blame the software testers who didn’t introduce it into their test scripts.

What if these people had written more important mission-critical software like on an Aircraft or Nuclear Power plant – “wait until the batteries run down & re-boot” is not always a viable solution?


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Keith Appleyard

Keith Appleyard

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17 Aug 2007



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