The art of software murder
When good apps turn bad
All your machine are belong to us
Acrobat Reader is a near-monopoly product. It has thrived thanks to the prevalent belief among the techless, and the convenient fiction among the techies, that plain vanilla PDF files are unalterable, and are therefore suitable for transmitting quotes and invoices and other legalistic documents. One day soon, I predict, it is going to be abruptly discovered that the editability of PDFs is important after all.
This is by the by. Recent versions of Adobe Reader (as it has now called) have shown distinct signs of megalomania, and I claim - rather boldly - that it has now put on its wetsuit and is paddling in Great White waters.
Here’s some circumstantial evidence:
- A splash screen lingers for so long that you get a chance to memorise that huge list of patents that Adobe claims to itself, and even perform some basic arithmetic on the first few numbers, by way of passing the time. Have you spotted that sequence of primes yet?
- There is that groan of realisation that can be regularly heard everywhere on the internet, when an accidental click on a PDF in a search results page means that the user is now confined at Adobe’s pleasure for the next minute or so, until Acrobat chooses to give back control of the web browser.
- Have you ever made the mistake of letting the thing upgrade itself via Internet downloads? I let version 7 have its way, and it rebooted the machine three or four times on the trot. Honestly, one of the more gullible heuristic algorithms in the virus checker thought I had got an infection.
Enough. There is an alternative is called Foxit; it is time to remind Adobe that it is mortal too.
Behold our foetus
Earlier this year, CodeGear put its name to a piece of work called Delphi for PHP. Releasing software before it is ready is not an entirely unknown practice, but this effort really established new boundaries, and acknowledgement should be made.
It would be quite untrue to say that there was no documentation at all; somebody had run one of those help generators over the source to pick out the method comments - of which there were very few. Also, there was a nice empty wiki so that you could write the documentation yourself, and save CodeGear the effort and expense. The open sourcing of the product’s library VCL for PHP works the same way.
To my astonishment and fascination (I write as a purchaser), Delphi for PHP has won an award in a Brazilian magazine. I’d love to read why the Brazilians did this, but my linguistic skills are not up to the job. I think the word I am looking for is 'chutzpãh’.
It is tempting to single out Delphi again in this category. Borland’s release of Delphi 8 for .NET gave Delphi users a dramatic opportunity to produce slow, ponderous programs instead of the quick, elegant ones they had been used to. Delphi users have never taken .NET to their bosoms, but Delphi has survived the .Nexcesses of its owner, and recently shown signs of recovery.
Microsoft’s Visual Basic underwent far greater trauma. Microsoft insisted that all VB6 users rip their beloved ActiveX controls out of their living programs, take them down to their nearest authorised MS depot, where they would be slashed into four pieces and burned before their very eyes. VBers still tremble at the recollection of the great COM cull.
Or how about Visual C++? I say it jumped the shark the moment C# was added to Visual Studio, displacing C++ as the alpha language in Microsoft’s heart. No matter that Visual C++ 6.0 had a flaky, out-of date compiler that couldn’t really cope with the STL, much less Boost. At least it was proper C++, unmanaged and unadulterated.
You will notice that all these .NET victims are development tools. I know C# is popular for corporate-captive-audience programs; but has any 'ordinary’ program ever been written in a .NET language?
(And Paint.NET doesn’t count. Because I say so.)