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The art of software murder

When good apps turn bad

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Stob

Only the guilty need be afraid

Did you ever try Paint Shop Pro? It is the most splendid of programs, a faithful collie dog of a program. Whistle for it and it bounces up off your hard disk, and licks your face, and gambols around all eager and excited and ready to play.

Design industry pros may swear by Photoshop, but that costs way too much for me. And I never could get my head around The Gimp’s deeply-nested popup menus. (Apparently they are optimised for viewing through the zippered eyes-holes of a leather mask.)

Nope, it’s got to be Paint Shop Pro. Let’s round up a flock of company ID card photos and wittily pimple the cheeks and black out the teeth of our less popular colleagues! Let’s pilfer that neat bit of GIF marquetary from the Beeb’s website: change the colour, scale and rotate it, slap it in a PNG of our own - they’ll never know it’s gone. Let’s take the shot of the Christmas party, and clone-brush the FD’s hand an inch or so further north. Whether it’s bullying, theft or just good old-fashioned blackmail, Paint Shop Pro will do it for you!

Except it won’t.

I say 'Paint Shop Pro’, but I mean Paint Shop Pro Version 7.

Paint Shop Pro Version 8 was a spectacular leap over an individual of superorder Selachimorpha. To switch abruptly back to my canine metaphor, the eager obedient collie of Version 7 was gone, replaced by a fat, balding, blind old labrador that made bad smells and monopolised the hearthrug.

Whodunit?

I say that Paint Shop Pro was murdered by the enthusiasm of its coders. Their bloody fingerprints are to be found all over the body, but the most striking clue was the addition in version 8 of support for Python scripting.

No marketer would ever demand this. Python is a programming language of supposedly amazing powers that enables geeks to have fierce, religious arguments about nothing at all, which they call 'significant whitespace’. Embedding Python in Paint Shop Pro is like embedding Kate Adie in the Scouts: over the top and unlikely to impress the shade of Baden-Powell.

I am absolutely not mocking the programmers of Paint Shop Pro - 'there but for the grace of Pooh’ and all that - but it struck me as a particularly interesting example of softicide.

The original 'Jump the Shark’ TV show site provides a number of categories for identifying the point of no return: things like 'Same Character, Different Actor’, 'Special Guest Star’, 'K9’, and so on. A similar list can be constructed for software, starting by categorising Paint Shop Pro’s fate as 'Too clever by half'. Here are some other categories.

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