Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Update Treadmill - Software, Phone Home!

Ever notice that you spend a LOT of time clicking on that "helpful" update function when you're using that computer? 

It isn't just Windows PCs, it's all of them. 

You see, it's a function of the one stop shopping syndrome we have in software.  It used to be that software was small, light and fast.  It did one thing and did it well.  It had the features you needed to get the job done and it didn't have a lot of things you really did not need.

What has happened is that many programs have grown to add features.  It's called Feature Creep, Feature Bloat, or Code Bloat in the industry, although each of those terms means something slightly different.

I'm going to be a little generous with my definition here, precision in the English that I'm using isn't strictly required in this context.

When I was sent this graph as a joke, it immediately struck a chord.  I use PDF to print very often.  Most days I will print out my first document before 730 in the morning, and may print out another 10 documents without thinking about it twice.  All of this goes to an electronic file format instead of a piece of paper.  These images are stored in a central place for me, specifically to a 16 GB chip that I keep in the side of my trusty laptop.  I can pop that chip out and slip it in my wallet if I need to, but for the most part it stays cozy in the side of my little computer.

Adobe seems to be one of the worst of the "Update of the Day Club".  The others that get me are Java and Microsoft.   I start the computer and more days than not, I am clicking "OK" to update a piece of software because someone had found that if I click on a certain thing, in a certain esoteric situation, someone could cause me to have a virus.

I think I updated Java 6.26 easily 20 times before I told it ignore this particular update. No, the update didn't "take" and I hardly ever use the beast to begin with!

Nice to know they are watching for errors, but it would be better if some of these "necessary features" weren't there to begin with.

For the most part, complexity causes problems, whether it is in software or whether it is in a car. 

The best approach is "Lean and Mean" when it comes to computing.  I practice that when I have bought cars as well, simplicity being something that frankly is impossible to get any longer.   When is the last time you saw a new car with crank windows?

I'm not saying that all the frills should not be available, I am saying that they should be there upon request.  


When I got this laptop, I immediately installed the applications I felt I had to have.  That took the better part of a week to get set up, and I am an exception to the rule since I need so many pieces of software to be able to do what ever it is that I do in the course of the day.

The solution is to take the approach that some of the Linux distributions have - only install what the user (that's you) specifically requests. 

Most of us use Microsoft Word to write documents.  It used to be free, and the practice killed the market for most other large suites of software by being given away on a new computer.  Now that the software suites have been killed off (Remember WordPerfect or Lotus anyone?) Microsoft charges $100 or more for Office, of which one part is Word.

Now if you do use Word, ask yourself when was the last time you needed to merge a database with a document in order to process an email blast?  How about Excel?  When was the last time you needed to do a Pivot Table? 

I've done both recently, but again I am an exception.

That complexity is maintained because you May Need That Some Day, and you did pay for it.

Fair enough, but some day that will have to be fixed again.  After all, someone somewhere figured out how to break your computer by inserting a virus via a web page.

So go patch your software, run through Microsoft Update and let them fix your existing problems.  It is a necessary evil.  That is why they call it "Patch Tuesday".

Oh and if you surf a web page and click on a shortened link, remember that if I have to pay a housecall to fix your PC, you had better at least have good beer and be damn entertaining!

1 comment:

  1. I've been an "operator" for 20+ years and I get what you're saying. QuarkXPress is a good example. I worked for an ad agency that was a "testing site" when Quark was first introduced. Me and one other girl reported bugs with the program in the course of using it. This was the 1980s and desktop publishing (as they called it back then) was new. Eventually ... maybe two years later ... the bugs were gone and it was a terrific page layout program that allowed for lots of control. It was SIMPLE. Nowadays, they've added more bells and whistles than needed and it drove me backwards. After Quark 8, I gave up on the instabilities and re-installed Quark 4.0. It does everything I need and then some. So, yeah. You're right. Keep it simple, stupid. If only ...