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
243 pp.

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.

One Response to “On Software and Its Bad, Bad Lameness”

  1. Chris Lewis Says:

    There is one reason why software sucks:
    – People are not good at everything

    As a programmer, I have a terrible eye for designing interfaces. I can make them *functional* but not pretty or intuitive; although it’s amazingly easy to sit back and say what is wrong with a design if I’m shown it.

    The reason why software sucks is that engineers are expected to do everything: see the mess Google made of their video store, as opposed to Apple who pay people to get the interface just right. Security researchers get to sit all day cracking at software, against an engineer who had to get a certain feature coded by the milestone or face the wrath of middle-management.

    I don’t understand why a book is needed to make this point, and from your review, it seems like it didn’t even make that point. Taking shots at students is amazingly cheap too. Did you ever get *any* sort of feeling that Platt has any sort of insight at all?

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