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New tune for Microsoft software design?

Stop milking same old cow

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Advice from Microsoft on designing useful and uncomplicated software? Now, there's a novel idea.

Turns out, though, Microsoft Research principal researcher Bill Buxton - a trained musician with extensive experience outside of Microsoft who joined relatively recently - might be on to something, and Microsoft might be listening.

First piece of advice: break fee of the hamster wheel-like upgrade cycle of adding more features to old products - it makes software expensive and complicated, while most users stopped upgrading several versions back as what they've got is already "good enough."

"You can't milk that cow for ever," Buxton told The Register. So there you go.

Next, try to come up with something genuinely new that makes the world a simpler place. Finally, when it comes to building new software, involve the entire company - not just marketing or the R&D department - in the design process.

Oh, and those mashups you keep hearing so much about this year: they ain't God's gift to software development.

With that in mind, one is left wondering why on Earth Buxton's employer has been trying to milk the Windows PC franchise for so long. Then you realize the latest installment this epic, Windows Vista, isn't selling so well and that maybe he's got a point. Maybe Windows Vista really is a PC operating system too far and that it's symptomatic of the mid-life malaise that comes to all software.

Also, there's Office 2007, which was notable for the fact Microsoft chose to make existing Office features easier to find, and restrained itself from stuffing yet more useless capabilities into the already bloated Office drop-down menus.

Next, the mind wanders to California and BEA Systems, which is pushing version 10.3 of its application server while many customers I've met are on version 8.0. Oracle, meanwhile, is ramping up for the 11g release of its tools, middleware and application server. Will this madness never stop?

Buxton, who'll be speaking at next week's Business of Software conference in San Jose, joined Microsoft in 2005 having spent most of his adult life in music, international academia and design. Buxton, a Xerox Parc consulting research scientist, former chief Scientist of SGI and Alias|Wavefront, and - apparently - one of the 10 most influential innovators in the North American film industry according to The Hollywood Reporter, this year went analogue and put his thinking down in the form of a book titled Sketching User Experiences. The book tackles the sketching and design of products and - in doing so - manages to encompas Apple, Adobe Systems, avalanche shovels and Lance Armstrong.

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