Monday, May 10, 2010


A few days ago I looked at my opinions on modern software. I've found myself absolutely hating most of the software that comes out these days. I thought, "well, am I just getting old?"

But, no, I like lots of new software... I just don't like the brand name new software. Why is that? How could I possibly hate every brand name product?

After examining the software and my priorities, I have come to the conclusion that I am not wrong. All new brand name software sucks. Lemme explain.

The thing that really gets under my skin is the lock-in. Modern, brand name software is all about locking in the user, making the leash as tight as they can make it. They will actually cripple their software just to make the leash tighter.

An obvious example is Apple. Apple's products should be a joy to use, but whenever I sit down to use an iPhone or an iPad, I feel a great weight. It's as if somebody is sitting on my shoulders, wheezing and trying to cover my eyes. And every generation of Apple product, that guy gets fatter, wheezier, and sicker.

Sometimes the examples are more subtle. Microsoft's use of a ribbon is a brilliant and subtle way to raise a barrier, preventing people from switching to a competitor that's using classic menus. This is why Microsoft is happy to give away Office 2007 to many people, to get them used to ribbons. Office 2010 is also being given away - for example, a public school I'm familiar with is upgrading from Office 2007 to Office 2010, presumably for free, even though there is no reason to do so. Once the people at the school are comfortable with 2010, it will be almost impossible to convince them that another product is as good. People, in this case, also includes children.

Every brand name product has this kind of sleazy lock-in. Whenever I read about a new product by a big company, such as "the Amazon Cloud", I can feel a fat, wheezy guy getting into position behind me and starting to sweat with the excitement of a potential new user.

It's a desperate attempt to stay in business, you see. It's inevitable. This is not railroads, this is not farming, this is not oil drilling. Small software companies are faster and more dangerous than big software companies. Five guys and five hundred guys competing to make a social networking site? I'll bet on the team of five any day of the week.

The big companies cannot keep their customers without using brutal amounts of leverage.

I pity them, but I also pity roundworms and politicians.


Anonymous said...

Yes, you are right. But on the other side: the tighter the leash is, the lesser frustrated is common user. Many possibilieties are good for experienced user but my mom, for example, needs to be guided. To find all the things on "right" place, to learn one "skill" applicable to many parts of GUI, not to be lost in menus, to do the same thing in the same way everywhere... Apple's intentions is just about that.

Craig Perko said...

No, that's a misleading side effect. Those same users would do just fine with DEFAULT function being carefully guided and scripted. Advanced users - or normal users who need a bit more - could easily turn off or change the defaults.

Like, say, Firefox. I've never seen poor ol' mum confused by Firefox's extensibility.

These companies aren't doing it for the end user, they're doing it because they want more leverage.

By the way, I'd be a lot nicer if you had a name. The name/url option is there for a reason: you don't even need to sign up for anything. Again, freedom without being too confusing.