Sailing the oceans on HMS Feature Bloat?
The other day Lifehacker wrote about Caffeine, a tiny 48KB piece of freeware that does just one thing: it stops my Mac from dimming the screen and falling asleep. It puts a Zzz icon in the menu bar and it functions like a light switch. To turn it on, you click it. To turn it off, you click it again. That’s as basic and binary as it gets. Now, another bit of software, Jiggler, does pretty much the same thing, yet gives the user more configurable options. And weighs in at 168KB.
I’ll now cherry-pick three comments by those Lifehacker readers who prefer Caffeine:
“Screw options… keep it simple,” said one. “It does exactly what I want it to do with a minimum of fuss or effort,” said another. “Simple, to the point,” said the third.
Fast-forward to today. And to the bit that will probably frustrate a colleague or two at Skype. Jean Mercier of Skype Numerology has posted “Video in the mood? Bah!”, a piece that condemns feature bloat in Skype without quite calling it that. He points to comments on this very blog which reflect a longing for a lite version of Skype.
Not everyone feels that way. “I think all of the progress and features Skype has added to its product are genius,” says one user leaping to our defense. “I welcome more feature[s] that will enable me to use Skype more efficiently to render my life more productive and allow me to complete tasks faster.”
Although Jean Mercier is a bit unfair when he writes, “Time to listen to the customers Skype! Most existing customers don’t like it!” — basing such a sweeping statement on fewer than ten blog comments is a pretty big stretch — his general observation about features vs. simplicity is a reasonable one. And I won’t muddy the picture by arguing that many new features are added in response to, yes, users asking for them.
Instead, I’ll state the obvious: Finding the right point on the simplicity-feature scale is a fine art mastered by few. I can imagine the fiery arguments that illuminate the room where new features are chiseled in stone. But to say that is a cop-out. We hate feature bloat, too. Question is, have we succumbed to the unspeakable? Or are these concerns premature?
As I await your comments, let me click the Zzz icon on my menu bar to keep the screen from dimming…