Regarding our new software programs

I’m really proud of all the new software we introduced this week. And I’d like to explain a bit about our process. Because we take a little bit different approach when it comes to developing software. What we do is, we go talk to customers and ask them what features they want in such-and-such a program. Then we go back and try to make that program. I know. Pretty radical, right?

Take our new Pages word processing applications. Customers have been screaming for a fairly simple and easy-to-use word processor that they can understand just by opening up and poking around. They don’t want a million buttons and pull-down menus and eight zillion features. So fair enough. That’s what we developed. (Or actually, what I developed, but we have to pretend that other people work on these projects too.) And we’re selling that plus the other iWork apps for 79 bucks. Jesus. How can you not buy it? What’s not to love?

Now think about this. These same customers asked Microsoft for the same thing — simplicity — and what did the Borg give them? A new version of Word that has more buttons than the dashboard on the space shuttle. You need a pilot’s license to use it. Have you seen it? It’s incredible. First time someone showed me the interface I thought it was a spoof, like that fake ad about what an iPod box would look like if Microsoft made it.

You know why this happens? Because here’s how things work at the Borg. They’ve got all these zillions of teams out there dreaming up wacky new features, and none of them talk to each other. And they’re all competing with each other and they’re all looking for applications to stick their features into. Doesn’t matter if anyone wants these features. They’ve been dreamed up. And raises and promotions are at stake. Productivity reviews and so on. To developers at the Borg big apps like Word are seen as big ocean-going freighters that get launched every few years and are able to carry loads of new features. If you’re inside Microsoft on a product team, the goal is to get as many of your little things onto the next big freighter before it sails. Whether you succeed is largely based on whether your boss and your boss’s boss have any influence with the powers that be. Can they trade favors? Push their weight around? Hold out one good feature unless five crappo ones go in with it? And so forth.

Basically they create software the way Congress writes bills. Every House rep gets a crack at the bill, loading it up with pork, paying back favors, doing the bidding of lobbyists or whatever. That’s why bills end up a thousand pages long and full of stuff that even the people who vote for them don’t know is in there. Polar bear petting zoos in Alaska, corn museums in Nebraska, whatever.

I look at the new Microsoft Office suite and I’m almost in awe. I mean it looks like they just shipped it without anyone actually looking at the programs and without having any central authority over the project. It’s like one of those movies where you walk out going, Did a group of fully sentient adult human beings really watch that movie and say, Wow, yes, this is wonderful, we must put this into cinemas everywhere and share it with the world? Same for Office. Who gave this the green light? I mean how could Ray Ozzie actually think, Wow, this is some beautiful, elegant software? Oh wait. That’s right. Ray made Notes. Enough said.

Anyway. Microsoft is all about kitchen sink software development, with pieces thrown in from all over the place. Frankenstein apps, we call them. I’m sorry to say this because as you know the Beastmaster and I have become best girlfriends again since we hung out at the All Things D conference. Bill, forgive me. But you know it’s true.