On knowing when to stop in software development

One of the very few things I learnt in art class is what the role of Jackson Pollock was in his art. Because, we were asked, what is the role of the artist, if the only thing he does is let paint drop on a canvas? His role is to decide when the work is complete.

This is something we most often overlook in computer science: there comes a time when a project, or a feature, is complete, and any more improvements, any more work put into it is likely to decrease its value and ruin all the good work. Too often we want progress in our applications, without realizing that it’s actually destroying them. Sometimes it’s just better to move on and work on something else. Even if a solution is 10 years old, it doesn’t mean it has to be updated because progress requires it.

Let me present a couple examples.

The Gutenberg editor in WordPress

WordPress 5 introduced the new Gutenberg editor, a project that has been rated with 2 stars out of 5 with a total of around 2000 reviews at the time of writing. It’s a product that is so buggy and un-usable that it is bewildering that it made it into Core, but whatever (in 10 minutes of usage, I found 7 crucial and unreported bugs just 4 months prior to release – see my review).

gutenberg reviewsLet us pause and ponder why it was introduced. Any apology of Gutenberg will say that is because the classic editor felt old. It looked so much like Office 2003, and it’s 2018, they say! You see, they say, 15 years in computer science is a huge deal!

But, you see, what is the main purpose of an editor? To write. And to that it must be apt. Gutenberg shifted the focus from writing content to designing a page, effectively forcing a progress in the wrong direction. Not much has changed in writing since Office 2003 came around: we still use bold, italic, headings, text alignment and little more. Anything else requires the careful crafting of a designer and writing of some HTML, as it should be. Nothing else is needed, really, when it comes to writing. But, they say, you cannot even create a table with the classic editor! And I say, that’s right, it should be possible! But that doesn’t require trashing a whole editor and building a cumbersome React-y thing just so that we can have tables, does it?

But, they say, this way you don’t need a designer to design your pages anymore. Of course, people must be really stupid if they have been paying web-developers/designers to put up their websites for the last 25 years, of course! So stupid of us! There, instead of hiring a professional photographer to shoot at your weeding, just give a compact camera to your uncle, since technology and progress have enabled you to do so. Because it really is just the same. When I was a kid, websites designed with Dreamweaver were looked down on, and anybody who wanted a real site should have hired a professional. Not it looks like everybody can do everything – expect that, uhm, they can’t.

Too often the right questions are not asked and carefully considered. Those are the most basic ones: do we really need this thing? How difficult is it to build it? Is it really worth it? What is the impact it will have on users/market? Does it add something really useful and needed without breaking anything else?

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Have I told you we should abolish Facebook?

Yesterday it was my birthday.

My family phoned me or just met me. Then there has been a handful of people who texted me on my mobile, mostly in the morning. I do not care how they remembered my birthday’s date, what I care about is that they took the time and the money (for those who paid) to text me. I am not ashamed to admit I use myself both Facebook and my mobile phone agenda to keep track of birthdays, apart from certain ones that are quite stuck in my head. But what I liked is that those people, the ones who texted me, tried to think of something nice to write and they actually came up with something sweet, something you would fancy reading after waking up. Those were the people closer to me. Some of them even told me that it was Facebook that remembered them it was my birthday, but they actually sent me an SMS and did not use Facebook to write me.

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How Windows 8 is the clear proof that Microsoft can’t lead

I’ve just had a quick look at the Windows 8 developer preview. Not screenshots, rumors or reviews around, I’ve actually installed it on VirtualBox and tried it myself. Yeah, it’s still early beta, developer preview, whatever you want… but what a crappy thing!! It’s not really up to bugs, instability and this kind of stuff, it’s all about the concept, that’s doesn’t make any sense at all! With this, I think Microsoft showed the last -though more evident- evidence they can’t lead – they must follow others’ footsteps. Apple has already said that eventually iOS and Mac OS will converge somehow but it’s not speeding this change up, it’s¬†obviously¬†something that will take time and, of course, PCs will never disappear. Anyway, slowly, it’s fine to develop new stuff for the mobile ecosystem and leaving the desktop a little behind because that’s where the average user will move, and the mass market with it. What’s not ok -actually, it’s foolish– is to think that the same operating system can provide a great user experience on both small and large screens. On portable and desktop devices. On 7/10″ and 25″ monitors. How could you possibly think that?!

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