The world of software is often a contradictory one. Sometimes software that stays almost unchanged for years can be regarded as the best in the business. Other times, systems which ostensibly offer the most cutting edge in technology find themselves dismissed as obsolete within a year of launch.
The reasons for this are complex and myriad, in an environment where competition is fierce and not always fair. So why has the software world taken the shape it has today? What advantages and disadvantages are found in a variety, and what challenges stand in the way of a more open world?
Habit Versus Potential
The current state of the software landscape is one where a constant tug of war is being fought over evolution and consistency. Before getting into the technical reasons this can exist, it’s important to note that a large portion of the issue is born from the human element.
People are, simply put, creatures of habit. We stick to what we already know not necessarily out of any sense of loyalty, but more from established habits of familiarity. We tend to accept the status quo of what software accomplishes, believing more in what existing programs can currently do than what newer systems potentially might.
In some cases, the ideas behind this can be fundamentally correct. Take a music player like Winamp for example. For many music enthusiasts, all they need on their PC is a way to play music and sort playlists. These are features that the program perfected years ago, so existing users might logically see no reason to upgrade to a newer platform. This reasoning is valid, but it comes with the potential caveat of missing out through an unfamiliarity of newer features.
The issue with newer features and systems is that we often don’t understand the positive net effect they can have on the user experience. Even if a newer system operates similarly to an old one, a simple update to the user interface or key design elements can add far more than we would predict.
A common way in which this idea is illustrated can be seen in online slot games such as LeoVegas Sweet Bonanza. Like many online slot games, this is a new take on a formula that has existed for years. Far from being stagnant, however, entries like this are enormous hits because of their ability to put a fresh twist on an existing system. Here, new themes, graphics, and bonuses, all contribute to a completed piece of software worth far more than just the sum of its parts.
Change for Change’s Sake
The opposite side of this coin can occur when change is not driven by an attempt to evolve an area or offer something new, but rather to maintain market interest. There has been an enormous number of examples of such attitudes in recent years, one of the most famous of which is Windows Vista.
Released as an attempt to replace the much-loved Windows XP operating system, Vista was a dud among PC users. Lamenting its pointless changes to existing systems, software bloat, and issues with compatibility as detailed at ZDNet, Vista was, for most users, more trouble than it was worth.
Finding the Balance
By looking at the examples of the good and bad, it becomes evident that the key lies in the balance. Software developers need to find the tipping point of updates, changes, feature additions, and even where developing techno-culture could look to expand. There might not be a need to reinvent the wheel, but a fresh coat of paint can still go a long way.
It’s Just Business
The final confounding aspect which commonly plays a part in software variety is that of cost. For some types of software, development is inexpensive enough that even hobby programmers could make a real attempt to create something new. In the case of larger programs, like with our Windows OS example, creating a professional product is prohibitively expensive.
Even if a group could conceivably find a way to develop a viable alternative to larger programs, the advantages which larger and wealthier companies have would put these groups at a significant disadvantage. The foot of billionaire multi-nationals is not one which can be easily lifted though, fortunately, this is a problem which has been diminishing in recent years.
A More Open Tomorrow
The development world in the current technological environment is one where almost anything is possible. Crowd-funding for programs has proven an especially useful tool in this regard, aiding in developing programs that could never have gotten off their feet otherwise.
Blockchain and video gaming have already seen massive success on this front, with the most successful raising hundreds of millions of dollars in support. While some, like Star Citizen, has been questionable in their implementation, there are others like the EOS blockchain which have gone on to become international hits.
Ultimately, we now find ourselves in an age where software variety is a bigger concern than ever before. As we only become more technological in the future, this trend is all but guaranteed to continue. Fortunately, whether newer projects succeed or fail, our growing abundance of choice is almost always great for the consumer. Let’s just hope for more EOS than Windows Vista.