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The art of software murder

When good apps turn bad

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Where great software goes to die

It often happens that a small software house with a successful product is bought out by a much larger company with a lot of money. On these occasions, grand assurances are given along the lines of, 'Of course we will take good care of it. The upgrade is still scheduled for the new year; we will press forward with the plans for the Linux version too; and we have taken chief architect Rich Clever on board to make sure everything goes to plan.’

The sequel, of course, is stagnation and death. The package is reissued with all its logos changed to Large Company style, and the trademark™ symbol is added many thousand times to the help files. The licence agreement is enhanced from one paragraph to 10 pages.

But it soon turns out that Rich Clever wasn’t the software genius after all; or maybe his stock options have melted his programming brain. And after 18 months, the application no longer fits into Larger Company’s brand strategy, and that is the end of that. Although I believe you can still order the Windows 95 CD if you know the right place to go on the website.

It is a drearily common phenomenon, but I decline to name specific examples. This month’s homework is to enumerate five packages to which this has happened.

The Office 2007 effect

I had actually gone to the expense of purchasing a short sermon to deal with this item, from one of those sites that sell pre-assembled packages of opinions that you can pretend are your own, and use to decorate your yuletide blog.

It was quite pricey, but I think the quality showed through. It included much play with the term 'bloatware’, a lucid discussion of the ethics of trying to force through an ISO standard, and restated the trite observation that Outlook 2007 is really ghastly. There was even going to be an algebraic joke. The reader is challenged to use Excel 2007 to simplify this equation

x = 65535 - 1000000

to demonstrate that

x = 0

Heady stuff.

But in my anxiety to be fair to Microsoft - and it goes without saying that every single one of us here would cheerfully cut off two or more of our noses to avoid being unfair to those boys - I decided I had better try Word 2007.

What do you know? It’s actually rather fun, and not particularly sluggish compared with Word 2K. The effect of the famous interface ribbon, with its pretty coloured controls and drop-downs, is cheerful and seasonal. True, some operations, for example applying a style to a paragraph, do cost an experienced Word user a few minutes of muttering and clicking. But we’ll soon get over this.

Well, we would get over it, if we actually used it, which of course pretty well nobody is doing. Hands up anybody who has seen a .docx file in the wild. Precisely.

All the above

What would it be like if a single piece of software were simultaneously afflicted with all the maladies listed above? It would surely be a gloomy prospect.

To coin a phrase, a truly miserable vista.

Merry Christmas all.®

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