Ben Langhinrichs

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August, 2004
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Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Fri 20 Aug 2004, 09:21 AM
I grew up in a family as one of four brothers with no sisters, so I missed out some on the peculiarities joys of dealing with women's issues.  Now, I have a daughter and a wife, and while they are both sensible and reasonable women with good heads on their shoulders, I have been exposed to more of the women's magazines, and what they tell women they ought to care about. One of the truly frightening intriguing concepts the magazines tout is the idea of "wedding weight".

As far as I understand the concept, women go to tremendous effort to diet and exercise before they get married, so they can "look good" for their wedding photos.  They frequently weigh less than they did in high school.  All that I can sort of understand, as I certainly wanted to look good for my wedding.  But then they weigh themselves, and immortalize that weight for the rest of their lives as their "wedding weight", and refer to who far off their wedding weight they are at any point.  After that, they can have kids, work jobs, grow to middle age, and generally live real lives, but none of it is supposed to weigh them down.  Guess what?  It does weigh you down.

Anyway, when a software product is new and building a following, nothing is more important to its developers than making it work the way people want.  Product launch is the first wedding, followed by a long series of mini-weddings as versions are added and the product is brought to perfection.  New customers love the product, and love the versatility and agility of the developers, who seem to read their minds and add new features just as they are needed, and fix bugs before they are too big a problem.  The better the developers do this, the more loyal the following.  A set of expectations is being built, both by the developers and the customers, which is the "wedding weight" of the product.

Then a few years go by.  If the product is successful, especially if it is very, very successful, a certain weight is added.  Any new feature must be tested against every other new feature.  There are now thousands, or even millions, of people using the software, and every fix seems to break something else.  API's change, standards change, and everything is supposed to keep working both with the old stuff and the new stuff.  Development times extend, reported bugs rise, customers wonder where the early responsiveness is.  Still, the added years have also worn down the rough spots.  The accumulated bug fixes have made a very stable product.  The features work together with a smooth, if sometimes tired, familiarity.  The customers are used to the "way things work".

But a few years later, more weight is added.  The original developers have all moved on to new challenges.  The new developers aren't as familiar with the "way things work" as their customers.  They have new ideas which may go against expectations.  Also, as with people, there are children.  Products are spun off which require nurturing, often at the expense of keeping the original "wedding weight".  Developer time is often split between the parent product and the children.

So, here we are with Notes/Domino (it used to be one name, but like a double chin, even the parent has expanded some).  Along with the weight of years of backward compatibility, adherence to once and future standards weighs on the hips like too many macaroni and cheese dinners.  The developers have mostly moved on, replaced by new developers.  The focus is split between the children and the parent.  And IBM's response is to roll out the rich client.

Now, the rich client is attractive, if not exactly slim.  It does not have the years of history, the weight of children, the drag and sag of endless customers.  But what is it really?  Is it a new and better Mom who, unburdened at last as the children have gone off to college, has started swimming and attending classes and looks happier and healthier than she has in years, ready to head into a new phase in life?  Or is it another woman, an attractive vixen who pretends to have the experience and wisdom of Mom, but who tempts developers with the skinny thighs of inexperience, the slender waist which comes when backwards compatibility is shed, the large assets of a new development environment?

Is the rich client a re-invented Notes, getting back to its wedding weight, or a pretender eager to inherit the wealth and reap the riches earned by its predecessor?  

I guess you'll have to answer for yourself while I brace myself for those who feel this whole article is sexist, which it really isn't meant to be.

Copyright 2004 Genii Software Ltd.