Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rant: Marching Forward; Why Should I Upgrade?

With the oncoming release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, I feel compelled to rant about a post I saw on the discussion board for the open-source software AudioSlicer.

On this forum there was a post that seemed like the author was taking out his frustrations on the AudioSlicer developer that software was not backwards compatible with his old version of Mac OS X.

Now, if I picture myself as the average user, ignorant of anything to do with software development, I can see where the guy is coming from. However, as a developer, I find his attitude to be quite maddening, particularly because AudioSlicer one man's solution to a problem he was trying to solve for himself, and was nice enough to share it with anyone who wanted to download it!

Building a Home Of Code

Building software is kind of like building a home. Each operating system gives you a set of tools and building blocks to build your "home", and then you figure out how to stack them with building blocks of your own and glue them all together to make an application for people to enjoy.

In the old days, there were no power tools and, depending on the place and time you lived, you might even have to your own plaster and maybe even cut down your own trees. Thus, most of your time, energy, and money, goes just into building things for construction, much-less building a complex and interesting house.

In modern times, however, you are lucky enough to be given power tools, pre-cut lumber, drywall, and fiberglass insulation, allowing you to spend more time on building the house the way you want it, and less time preparing to build.

Now what happens if someone wants you to build that nice modern home but with old fashioned techniques and materials? You'd have to spend inordinate amounts of time re-inventing technologies such as drywall and fiberglass fabrication, and spend large amount of time overcoming the lack of power tools and even back-hoes!

No contractor would dare to take on this task because it is just not economically feasible for anyone to build a modern house using old-time building techniques.

The same is true for software developers. We are given many building blocks and tools from our operating system manufacturer that smart people have spent months or even years developing and testing, and then we take advantage of their hard work so that we can focus on building better software applications for end users.

Jaguars, Panthers, and Tigers, Oh My!

Most users were very unimpressed by OS X 10.4 Tiger's release, and I can agree with them. From a user's perspective, it was a lackluster release. It was hard for the average person to justify spending $130 to upgrade from their comfortable and productive little OS X 10.3 Panther machines.

But what these people didn't realize was the massive amount of really cool new building blocks Apple gave developers. These new building blocks (called APIs if you want to learn a new word), got developers very excited as it allowed them to make much better software for a lot less time and cost.

As a result, several months after Tiger was released, a flood of cool software came out that could only run on OS X 10.4 Tiger. This, of course, caused all the people who wanted to stick with OS X 10.3 Panther to complain that no one was releasing their cool new offerings for them.

The Amish Can't Have Cell Phones

As much as many people hate it, technology marches forward at a breakneck pace. What was sate-of-the-art in computing four years ago is slow and a useless novelty now. It may be cheaper not to upgrade, but to stay in the past is to be left behind.

If you refuse to buy pre-manufactured building materials and use power tools to build your house, you can't expect the same quality of house for the same costs and built in the same small amount of time.

So why do you expect anything different from software developers?


Development is a very long, complicated, and expensive process. Most software projects--even while taking advantage of all the tools and building blocks they have available to them--still run significantly overtime and over-budget. So how do you expect developers to find the extra time and money to spend the months (or even years) necessary to re-invent building blocks from scratch, just so that you can live in the past?

Indeed, in reality, many new pieces of software that require new building blocks were only ever made because the new building blocks exist. CoreData and CoreImage allow developers to build database-driven libraries of scanned images, and Cocoa Bindings allow developers to build whole CoreData driven GUIs without touching a hardly any code. Without these nifty new technologies, cool applications like Delicious Library would be such a chore to make that only companies with large development and marketing budgets would be able to build them.

Change Course Into The Wind

The world is always changing, and technology is no different. People are scared of change. But those who do not cope with change get left behind while those that embrace change become successful. As much as it can be a large time, energy, and monetary investment to change, it is worth it to yourself and your family to learn and adapt...

...or don't complain when you get left in the dust.

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