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I've been writing software for a long time.

When I was 14, I taught an HP programmable calculator to tell time by flashing hours, minutes and seconds repeatedly. It used a loop of null operations to take up the time between each second. Slight changes in room temperature would cause it to speed up or slow down the rate at which it performed these loops, ultimately making it a poor timepiece.

But I was hooked -- I have loved programming since those days. That was almost three decades ago and since then, I've been writing some kind of software almost every day or managing those who do. For the last decade, I've been running a company that creates and sells software.

In all that time, there has been a recurring theme in our industry that keeps raising its head over and over again: reusing already battle-tested software is preferable to writing new software. How can we do a better job of reusing legacy software?

Reusability -- The Holy Grail

That same wonderful HP company that got me started on this path (and is now one of my customers) put out a great book in 1992 with the obtuse title, "Practical Software Metrics for Project Management and Process Improvement." I know it sounds like a snoozer, but it's not. Although this book is more than 18 years old, it could have been written this year, because the concepts are still relevant. Among the research are these two nuggets of wisdom:

1.Projects created primarily from reused software experience only about 1/3 the defect density of those that are new.

2.Projects created primarily from reused software take about 1/4 the time and resources of those that are new.

There are many other nuggets. It's a great book.

Enter Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) -- the next wave of reusability.

Whenever "the next big thing" is announced, CIOs are understandably skeptical. At a recent IBM SOA conference that I attended in Dallas, one CIO of a Fortune 500 firm said to me, "Is there really a standard here or is this like the OSF where all the Unix vendors bickered endlessly, producing little agreement while Microsoft chortled in the background? SAP says they have thousands of companies participating, IBM says they have 300 ISVs and thousands of 'assets' -- are they counting the same things? Are they in agreement over definitions? I don't think so."


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