September 30, 2007

On Software and Its Bad, Bad Lameness

by Nick Montfort · , 1:36 am

A Review of Why Software Sucks … and What You Can Do About It
By David S. Platt
Addison-Wesley
2006
243 pp.
$19.99

A tissue of yarns, Microsoft and computing jokes, and the occasional bit of discussion of software deficiencies. Initially, I liked the idea of a book-length rant about software. I did manage to find some high points and things that at least made me smile. For instance, there’s the section about how the “save changes” dialog in Microsoft Windows Notepad needlessly exposes the underlying workings of the program. It is not clear why the average computer user or would be interested in most of this when they could turn to some more coherent discussion of the main topics of substance: user interface, privacy, and security. And, I feel that developers will probably not want to consult this book regarding specific systems or topics of interest to them. Why Software Sucks has no index, so the author must have felt the same way.

The more substantial discussion of software takes place in the first few chapters. The shark has been fully jumped by the time we reach the chapter about Platt’s experiences at Microsoft’s Tech Ed conference. We learn about who was voted the worst speaker there and how well Platt did in the rankings, but the only connection to software sucking seems to be the part where he bags on students who entered the Imagine Cup programming contest. After some speculations about geeks and gender, some error message haiku, and a picture of the author’s infant daughter with food smeared on her face, the book closes with a laundry list – seemingly stolen from someone else’s laundry – detailing how ordinary people can work to fix this problem. It turns out you shouldn’t buy sucky software, you should write to businesses who make such software, you should make fun of sucky software, you should read reviews, and you should “organize.”

The body text in this book is typeset in Electra, one of my favorite fonts. Erich Hobbing has used Electra to typeset recent novels by Don DeLillo; the font has also been used to typeset works of fiction and poetry by Robert Pinsky, Frank Bidart, and Ralph Lombreglia. Comic Sans would have been much more appropriate here.