Barney's Rubble

Bloated Software Woes

This month Doug looks back at the good ole' days of software -- and how tablets may bring it all back.

Name your favorite software program of all time. Chances are it won't be feature-filled Office 2010, SAP R/3 or some highfalutin custom corporate app.

I love it when my opinions match those of real experts, especially when those experts are you, the Redmond magazine reader. And while it's not unanimous, it seems that most of you agree with me that today's software is bigger than it need be, that the features wars have one main casualty: the user.

How do I know? I talked to you and heard you yearn for MS-DOS, simple old versions of WordPerfect and new phone and tablet apps (even my 5-year-old-daughter Kiley can use an iPad or iPhone with zero training).

So now we have two contrasting trends. Client and server apps are more bloated than an uncle on Thanksgiving night. Windows 7, Office 2010, et al all need more resources to support more features. And how many server apps require 64-bit multi-core processing? That ain't exactly lean.

Often we can't decide if we want this hefty new software. If you get a new OS, guess what? You need new apps, which are generally larger and look and act different to boot. What if you don't want a new OS? Well, if you want security and support, you best get to upgradin'.

New features are how vendors justify the cost of new software, the same reason cars get GPS devices, DVD players and voice-activated vehicle control options. (Plus it keeps their dealers in business fixing all this junk!)

Maybe this is why there's a love affair with tablets, and so little feeling for netbooks, which are able to stuff larger software programs into an increasingly smaller package.

Tablet apps are the opposite. They're tiny with minimalist interfaces. The first time I used an iPad was at a retail store. I'd never even used an iPhone, but had spent about 10 minutes before with an iPod touch. I was surfing the Web on the iPad in about 24 seconds. Microsoft is getting that same religion with Windows Phone and the upcoming Windows 8 Metro-style interface.

The question now is how Microsoft will reconcile the two approaches. How can it truly make simple phones and straightforward Metro apps enterprise class, and meanwhile keep big client apps compelling?

I think it has to do both. While most classic software has too many features, our businesses rely on all these big apps. Templates, file formats, macros, add-on software and middleware can't just disappear. Nor can they just be given a pretty new face. Just think of how many tablets are running rich Windows apps through virtualization.

What's your ideal balance between features and usability? I want to hear from you -- let me know at [email protected].

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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