Feeds

When good software gets complicated

Build for simplicity

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A lot of recent articles have raised the issue of complexity in software (here, here, and here). So why is this subject back again? Surely it's been done to death? Apparently not. When I carried out a quick straw poll of some developers recently, few of them actually thought about avoiding unnecessary complexity in their software.

Keeping it simple

Personally, I am a really big fan of KISS - "keep it simple stupid" - but what does this mean? It means aiming to produce software that is as simple as is achievable, but that still gets the job done. And actually, the ability to keep it simple is certainly not stupid. It is, in fact, a very hard thing to do and requires a great deal of skill.

Why is this? Surely writing simple software is, well, simple. The trouble is that what we really want to do is not just write simple software, but write potentially complex ideas, logic or applications as simply as possible.

Thus, an algorithm to predict future trends on the stock market based on the use of techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) such as Genetic Algorithms may be inherently complex, but the key is to write that software as simply as is possible.

Why try harder?

Some of the developers I questioned above asked "why should I bother – surely as long as the software works that's enough right?" Wrong. Someone has to maintain the software, someone may need to extend that software, and someone may need to fix bugs in that software (perish the thought). The more complex the way it is implemented, the harder it will be to maintain.

As an example, I was once running a project that used evolutionary ideas taken from the AI field to identify and predict fraudulent mortgage applications. This was written in Java.

On the project, I clearly remember trying to convince a very talented and skilled developer that using a set of binary flags within an int to hold information about the state of the system was not a good idea. I proposed the use a set of boolean instance variables to do the same thing - each with a meaningful name - within a State object.

However, he was convinced that using a single int with each bit representing part of the system state was far more efficient, used less memory, and could be implemented using bit wise operations resulting in faster processing.

The problem was that the other developers on the project were from data processing backgrounds and were not comfortable with bits and bit wise operations. For them this was definitely not the simplest design. Note that the application spent the majority of its time waiting for the results of database searches and in terms of performance this was the greatest bottleneck.

In the end his solution was replaced by something that replied on a much higher-level representation, was still fast enough, and went through four or five generations of development without any problem. In my book, the second solution was by far superior.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
That dreaded syncing feeling: Will Microsoft EVER fix OneDrive?
Microsoft's long history of broken Windows sync
Mozilla, EFF, Cisco back free-as-in-FREE-BEER SSL cert authority
Let’s Encrypt to give HTTPS-everywhere a boost in 2015
SLURP! Flick your TONGUE around our LOLLIPOP – Google
Android 5 is coming – IF you're lucky enough to have the right gadget
Nokia's N1 fondleslab's HIDDEN BRILLIANCE: The 'Z Launcher'
Sugarcoating Android's Lollipop makes tab easier to swallow
Bug fixes! Get your APPLE BUG FIXES! iOS and OS X updates right here!
Yosemite fixes Wi-Fi hiccup, older iOS devices get performance boost
Microsoft: Your Linux Docker containers are now OURS to command
New tool lets admins wrangle Linux apps from Windows
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
Meet Windows 10's new UI for OneDrive – also known as File Explorer
New preview build continues Redmond's retreat to the desktop
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.