There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Software and Scorpions - I

The scorpion implores the turtle to carry it across the river on its back. The turtle is reluctant because of the scorpion’s unsavory reputation. But after many promises from the scorpion the turtle relents and halfway across the river is stung by the scorpion. The scorpion’s answer to the turtle’s agonized queries as to why he was so betrayed “You knew I was a scorpion when you took me on.” This well known fable is an apt analogy to the world of software users (turtles) and software manufacturers (scorpions). Not only do we continue to take on the scorpions, we have helped the scorpions to evolve into more and more venomous varieties.

In 1986, after a flurry of early computers with high prices, limited software and obscure operating systems, the arrival of IBM’s XT/286 computer combined with MSDOS made personal/business computer use practical. In these early days, software manufacturers just scrambling to get off the ground had to convince consumers not only that their product performed a job, but that the consumer actually had a need for it. In this environment products like Lotus 123, WordPerfect, dBase and the like each performed one well defined task and did it well. Software had to run in 640K (K, people, not M) so code had to be small, efficient and optimized for speed. Computers running under MSDOS (or DRDOS or IBMDOS – competition kept companies on their toes) could perform but one task at a time so through MSDOS 6.0 the operating system was tweaked and optimized to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of the 286 processor, the 640K of program space and the new slow and expensive 20M hard drives (that’s M not G). But on the horizon loomed a new product, Microsoft Windows, that was about to change all that.

In May of 1990, after five years of versions that were buggy and added nothing to productivity, Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0. Having introduced Microsoft Office for Windows in January, Microsoft now had an operating system and office suite that had eye appeal, could run programs above the 640K barrier and could (sort of) multi-task. In a very real sense, everything that has happened since in the Windows world has been tweaking of the 1990 product. The long bug plagued history of Microsoft products has been so well documented that I won’t beat this horse myself except to note that Microsoft has now fallen into the business model of selling a product that no one expects to live up to advance billing until months, sometimes years, after the initial release when enough service packs have been supplied to make the product behave. It’s like buying a new car and being resigned to the fact that the seats, air conditioning and heater will be made available at some future date.

Since the first release of Windows 98 in May of 1998 we have known that Microsoft breeds scorpions yet we continue to buy them and continue to squawk when they sting us. Some light seems to have dawned recently when Windows Vista proved to be a premature release similar to Windows ME only this time people stayed away in droves waiting for until the less bug filled version arrived with Windows 7 (Does Microsoft deliberately avoid a naming convention for the versions of Windows just to confuse us?). Still Microsoft hauled in huge amounts of money for an operating system that was universally panned. Why do we do this? What makes us collectively plow billions of dollars into products we know and accept will be flawed? Got any ideas? I’ll pursue this and point out that Microsoft isn’t alone in the scorpion filled world of big software in the next edition.

No comments: