Thursday, February 23, 2006

Software Features: is a plethora a good thing?

In class today I talk about some of the collaboration features that Microsoft put into Word - specifically the change tracking options. That got me thinking about software, features, and the tree falling into a forest (does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it?) My answer to the question is yes - it makes a sound. The real question is: does it matter if no one is there to hear it? In the same way - if there is a really cool feature in software, but no one uses it, does it really matter? So the developer has to find some way of informing people about the feature (that's marketing), and training people in how to use it - or even WHY they would want to (that's training/education). Case in point: Apple, a few years back, incorporated Publish/Subscribe into Clarisworks (now called Appleworks and dying). It was a really cool feature that I used a fair amount. The idea was that you could create, say, a logo in a draw document, and publish it. Then you could subscribe to the logo in a WP doc. The logo was a live link back to the original logo - make a change, and the changes automatically propagated to the WP document. It worked much better than what Microsoft came up with (OLE), which is to say it actually worked all the time, and was really easy to use. But Apple did a lousy job of telling people about it - and teaching people how and WHY they should use it....and so the feature was dropped after a few years. That should probably start another thread about feature bloat in Microsoft Office.......but I'm tired of typing, and now have some papers to grade anyway.