The price for “simple”

Dawn made a comment in comp.databases.pick: "I like to say that "it takes hard work to make software simple". That triggers a thought: as software evolves and user expectations increase it takes a lot more work to keep it simple. I don’t think some of my colleagues have embraced this concept.

It’s sort of like transportation. First people walked, then they rode horses, then they drove cars.

Walking required zero maintenance on the part of a second "value-add" provider.

With horses, the user requirement is a simple "all I want to do is go faster". That "all I want to do" part is the phrase used by users of all products to indicate that they still want their part to be simple, and they don’t care what it takes for the maintenance people to make that happen. Maintaining horses requires someone to feed, train, shoe, and nurse the horse. This is much more difficult than the "nothing" required for us to facilitate someone else’s walking around by themselves. But we endure and build barns and corrals, we make pitchforks for the hay, and troughs for the water. Blacksmiths train to make horseshoes and saddle makers hone their skills. This list goes on, and we see how "all I want to do", meaning "keep it simple for me", translates to a lot of complexity for other people.

Let’s move from horses to automobiles where "all I want to do is go faster without taking care of a horse". The consumer doesn’t want to be an engineer or mechanic. They want to open a door, turn a key, press a pedal, and steer to wherever they want very quickly. You’ll notice that even those simple actions have been addressed in the market with self-opening doors, keyless ignition, and research to allow vehicles to move on the roadways with no driver interaction. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

The auto industry is, for lack of sufficient adjectives without more coffee, huge. (I’m reminded of the description of the size of the universe in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. "Space… is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is…") There are companies that make components like transmissions, tires, mufflers, seats, and everything else. There are the auto manufacturers themselves with large factories. There are labor unions, quality and safety standards for workers and vehicles. There are laws for drivers on the roads and officers for law enforcement. There are drivers’ licenses and stickers and emissions compliance testing facilities. There are mechanics and gas stations. We have our oil industry, international turmoil, wars, and loss of human life which are all concerns for national government and foreign affairs. We have millions of miles of roads requiring increasing maintenance, which becomes a burden for domestic government. Need I mention global warming, increasing industrialization of third-world countries, and a possibility that our world may not exist as we know it in the next hundred years?

The "all I want to do" from the consumer has literally shaken the world.

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