By : Wayne Brooker
Back when the primary means
for distributing data was the floppy disk I found myself
constantly awestruck at the complexity of some of the games
and apps that could be shoehorned into such a small space.
With a ceiling of under 1.4MB to contend with, programmers
became incredibly skilled at writing tight, efficient code
that got the job done perfectly well but without all the
frills and flourishes we're used to today. Comments were
stripped from the finished code, creative techniques were
used to combine functions and shorten routines and Easter
eggs were left to the Easter bunny.
Unfortunately it seems that the recent, rapid developments
in affordable large-scale data storage has led to a situation
where program sizes are increasing uncontrollable. We may
be seeing more functionality but we're also seeing software
written in a sloppy fashion and stuffed with needless features
to try and compensate for their lack of refinement and usability.
The advantage to a 1.4MB limit is that it does a very good
job of focussing your mind while conversely, knowing you
have 4+ GB at your disposal means you can lighten up on
the self-discipline and spend less time in the planning
stage. This may very will speed the time taken to get a
new product on the shelves, but it also seems to mean more
bugs and flaws in the finished code.
I suppose a good example of this would be Windows itself.
Sold as an operating system, Windows has become one of the
prime examples of bloatware at its very worst. While I can
see the value in basic tools such as a calculator, I find
it hard to justify the time and expense, both to Microsoft
and to the end user, in pointless fluff like Movie Maker
or Paint which usually get ignored in favour of preferred
alternatives which are almost always better and very often
free. Quite how I'm supposed to feel good about being forced
to pay for these apps when even basic functionality is missing
from the core of this operating system is something I've
never quite come to terms with.
What worries me most is that this principle of adding as
many features as possible to your product so as to appeal
to as broad a market as possible is becoming commonplace.
As an example, I recently went shopping for a new mobile
phone and I set out with a very simply criteria. I wanted
a phone that was rugged, reliable and easy to use. I wasn't
interested in the camera, I already have one. Nor was I
interested in looks, I mean it's a phone for God's sake
not a pair of shoes. Unfortunately it seems that I'm a minority
when it comes to phones, and because models are on the shelf
for such a relatively short period of time manufacturers
are hell-bent on adding as many features as they can to
every single model in their range so as to shift boxes.
People like me, "niche customers" who would happily
sacrifice the el-crappo VGA camera, 40 note polyphonic ringtones
and cheesy animated menus in return for a durable aluminium
fascia and bomb-proof design can go and whistle, unless
we want to pick up one of those overpriced "older"
models that companies leave on their product portfolio to
appeal to the traditionalist who thinks its acceptable to
pay more money for an item that's probably cheaper to manufacture
than anything else in the current range.
That's not me, I won't be fooled by the idea that if it's
expensive it must be good. Don't get me wrong, I'm prepared
to pay a little over the odds for quality, but it has to
be a quality I can see and feel, not just a perceived quality.
Take the alloy wheels and tinted windows off my car by all
means, but give me better anticorrosion measures or uprated
brakes instead. Don't just sell it me for more on the premise
that not having alloy wheels and tinted windows is in some
way "trendy" or "hip". And don't force
me to buy air conditioning and go-faster-stripes, if I want
them I'll ask for them.
The relentless march of technology is impacting every one
of us. Short product lives mean manufacturers have to add
features to attract buyers, but they also have to turn a
profit, and this means heavy duty specifications built with
light duty manufacturing techniques. Your last TV may have
lasted 20 years but you can bet your new one won't, even
if it did come with stereo speakers, flat screen, silver
cabinet and a built-in calendar and moodlights.
I'll end this article with a call to manufacturers worldwide.
Modern production techniques are great and products that
drip with all the latest features are essential, but remember
that there are a small group of people out here who would
gladly sacrifice all of that for some good ole' fashioned
quality and durability, and perhaps the real reason why
retro is so big at the moment is not just about the styling,
it's about the build!
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