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Alan Cooper, the "Father of Visual Basic, has some humane and eminently sensible thoughts about software usability. If more developers read and absorbed the advice in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, computers would be far less annoying to the user. But Cooper on software economics is a different proposition.

After the greatest loss of wealth in human history, software developers are struggling to to justify themselves. ROI is now very closely examined, as CIOs take a cold hard look at large projects. And the resulting recession has prompted many large employers to turn to the much cheaper option of outsourced software development.

What's Cooper's suggestion?

It's simple, he argues in an essay this week. We simply need a new form of accounting to make expensive software projects look justified.

"The only available economic upside comes from making your product more desirable by improving its quality, and you can't do that by reducing the money you spend designing or programming it," he writes in a laudible plea for better software.

But Cooper makes a sophomoric error by claiming that because software defies the traditional economics of production and distribution, it defies simple profit and loss analysis too. This simply isn't true. If a software project costs $2,000,000 and saves the company $200 - it's a disaster no matter how you look at the balance sheet: upside down, in a mirror or translated into Klingon.

"No company can treat programmers the same as a factory because programmers demand continuous attention and support well beyond any factory."

But some demand less attention and support than others, as the outsourcers fully appreciate. Ironically, while Cooper might succeed in ingratiating himself with his developer audience, it's articles like this one which make CIOs more inclined to ship the jobs offshore where costs are lower. ®

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