|By Joe Winchester||
|February 5, 2007 04:00 PM EST||
I am always in awe of people who develop hardware. They're the real engineers of our profession, the ones pushing forward the speeds at which things work, their size, and their connectivity. For example, in 2005 there were more computer chips produced worldwide than grains of rice harvested and at a lower unit cost. Tonight as I was watching a movie from the 1980s, instead of dating it by the big hair and shoulder pads, the tree rings were most visible by the size of the mobile phone the hero was using, the lack of a plasma or LCD wide-screen TV in an otherwise luxurious living room, and the absence of a satellite navigation device as the lead characters got lost following directions from a map.
Why is it then that we in the software trade have let the side down so badly? Whereas hardware has advanced so dramatically in the last 40 years, I believe that software has stumbled along and, at worst, gone backward in a sort of fashion-driven and hysteria-led fervor. It must drive the hardware guys crazy - each time they achieve a new technological breakthrough with engineering brilliance, the software that runs on their new marvel seems to take the same number of steps backward that they managed to advance.
I remember coding in RPG in the 1980s and struggling to keep response times down so users wouldn't become dissatisfied with the application and bombard our help desk with complaints. If things got too bad, the customer could always upgrade their box to a newer and more powerful model and, riding the wave of Moore's Law with semiconductor speed doubling and price halving every six months, this was always the long stop for poorly performing code. However, as each new box came along with more memory and more processing power, the software somehow became larger and slower, so that the overall response time never seemed to really go down. I always felt sorry for the hardware engineers who with each new chipset probably thought, "Phew, we've just created an X mega/gigahertz chip; now everything that ran slowly before will perform OK, let's take a break," only to receive the call on their vacation that a new OS release or software package had been created that needed their new hardware specification as a minimum and could they please work on the next release to make it perform acceptably.
My mobile phone broke the other day after it fell on the kitchen floor, and after an apologetic call to my network provider, they agreed to send me a new one. Fortunately it wasn't going to cost me anything so I naturally talked myself into getting the latest whiz-bang model. When it arrived I was in awe of the thing: it's super slim, has the most gorgeous anodized case, a viewing area larger than my digital camera's, and as a piece of engineering is a work of art. The software on it, however, is absolutely terrible: to send a message I'm required to open a folder called messages, select "create," then type the message, pushing a button for "options", then pressing "send" again, which then asks me whether I want to send SMS or MMS. From a usability standpoint, it is just appalling. I don't care about network protocol; I want the phone's software to figure out which to use by analyzing the message's content.
There are two buttons on the front of the phone that will connect me to the Internet, one of which I keep pressing by accident when I'm backing up through menus. I don't want to connect to the Internet, ever, so I then have to press another button to cancel this. "Do you want to cancel?" This is the only time the phone ever asks for confirmation and, unfortunately for me, the only time I don't want to be asked. After pressing "Yes," it then comes up with a dialog telling me the number of bytes transferred that I have to press another button to dismiss. Why do I care about the number of bytes? It feels like the thing has a bunch of debug options left on. When I receive a call and the lid is open I press the green call button to accept. If I get a call and the lid is shut, all I have to do is open it and not push the button. Nice touch Mr. Usability Designer, except that if I open it and push the green button because I'm not thinking it holds the call. What is holding a call? All I know is that I can hear them and they can't hear me and I have to now push another button to retrieve the call.
My TV has a recordable receiver that can store shows on its internal hard drive allowing me to watch them at my leisure. This is great and totally changes the way one watches TV; however, when the chaps wrote their software on it they decided that the remote control buttons for changing channels would be up for a higher channel and down for a lower number. Not a bad choice, except the person writing the software to allow the program guide to be viewed used, not illogically, down for higher number channels (as the list is sorted with the lowest number at the top), so there are now two opposite ways to switch channel numbers depending on which part of the device's software you're using.
The list of frustrating software things that plague every existence doesn't end there, and it just disheartens me that the basic task of analyzing, understanding, and tooling for the user's most frequent and simple scenarios seem to have been overtaken by an obsession to cram as much functionality as possible into the hardware, overloading it with slow and poorly thought-through applications. In software we need to stop this millennium's ridiculous obsession with chasing the latest architectural fad or silver bullet that whizzes past, and instead focus on going back to basics and finding out what our users want and giving them something that's reliable, resilient, and more hard wearing.
|Carl 02/12/07 01:57:58 PM EST|
It's not accurate to say "look at how cool the h/w is" with your cell phone but complain about the "s/w" as if the UI were the only s/w involved. There is so much s/w behind making that phone work, routing calls, cells, protocols, etc. The h/w by itself would be useless. (Then there was all the CAD/CAM software used to design the h/w and its chips and circuits, run the manufacturing process, track production, shipping...).
Similarly with the RPG example; "gee, I still have to worry about poor performace 'cause we've junked up the fast h/w with useless features" - except that nobody wants just paper reports printed out weekly; they want their reports on-demand via the web. That's a ton of s/w behind all that. Do you have any appreciation for the internet and web browsers?
I think that a good part of the problem is the ephemeral nature of software. First of all, you can't see it or touch it, so like with these examples (above) he doesn't realize how much s/w he is touching. It has gotten very much more sophisticated, with layers upon layers of code. If he, as a s/w guy, isn't aware of it, how much less is management above him aware?
Does software engineering have problem? Sure. Would more engineering disciple help? Probably. But since software bits are "free", but hardware costs money to manufacture, it'll probably always be easier for bad software to "escape" (i.e. be released) than bad hardware - especially when the question is "does it work?" and not "does it work well?".
|Bill Albing 02/12/07 01:05:40 PM EST|
You know, it's not really the fault of the software developers, per se. All your examples have to do with software that has to work with hardware in an integrated fashion, and the companies that make those devices still see themselves as hardware companies not as service companies with solutions that integrate both hardware and software. Until they do, you'll see this disparity between hardware and software advances.
|Reema 02/09/07 03:17:08 PM EST|
Absolutely agreed! AJAX doesn't do a whit for us if we don't know the basics of UI design...
|BK 01/22/07 10:15:27 PM EST|
I agreed: hardware folks are real engineers. Software "engineer" are more like "pseudo-engineers". This is related to the fact that software "engineering" practices itself is "promiscuous. What do I mean by that?.
There, you have it: software allows Tom, Dick, Harry of lower caliber to code; hardware allows only those who knows engineering well to work with it for most part.
|Dennis Muzza 01/22/07 06:29:13 PM EST|
Yes, hardware engineering is a much more formal discipline than software engineering and there are many things we should be learning from them, but while not trying to downplay their achievements, mastering and harnessing the laws of electronics doesn't present nearly the same kind of challenge as figuring out the best way to arrange and present information to us fickle humans. While we still have a long way to go in the field of usability, looking at the achievements of the last 30 years (Lotus 1-2-3, Mac, Linux, Google, and a long etcetera)I don't think software professionals as a whole should be particularly ashamed.
"ReadyTalk is an audio and web video conferencing provider. We've really come to embrace WebRTC as the platform for our future of technology," explained Dan Cunningham, CTO of ReadyTalk, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at WebRTC Summit at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 6, 2016 10:15 AM EST Reads: 514
Financial Technology has become a topic of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 20th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York, June 6-8, 2017, will find fresh new content in a new track called FinTech.
Dec. 6, 2016 09:15 AM EST Reads: 2,141
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
Dec. 6, 2016 09:00 AM EST Reads: 3,961
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
Dec. 6, 2016 08:45 AM EST Reads: 7,124
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, drew together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established compa...
Dec. 6, 2016 08:30 AM EST Reads: 879
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web co...
Dec. 6, 2016 08:30 AM EST Reads: 1,334
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Dec. 6, 2016 08:15 AM EST Reads: 1,669
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Dec. 6, 2016 07:15 AM EST Reads: 1,837
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Dec. 6, 2016 07:15 AM EST Reads: 736
Businesses and business units of all sizes can benefit from cloud computing, but many don't want the cost, performance and security concerns of public cloud nor the complexity of building their own private clouds. Today, some cloud vendors are using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify cloud deployment and management. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ajay Gulati, Co-founder and CEO of ZeroStack, will discuss how AI can simplify cloud operations. He will cover the following topics: why clou...
Dec. 6, 2016 07:00 AM EST Reads: 835
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to simplify and streamline our lives by automating routine tasks that distract us from our goals. This promise is based on the ubiquitous deployment of smart, connected devices that link everything from industrial control systems to automobiles to refrigerators. Unfortunately, comparatively few of the devices currently deployed have been developed with an eye toward security, and as the DDoS attacks of late October 2016 have demonstrated, this oversight can ...
Dec. 6, 2016 06:30 AM EST Reads: 1,130
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
Dec. 6, 2016 06:00 AM EST Reads: 522
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will share examples from a wide range of industries – includin...
Dec. 6, 2016 05:00 AM EST Reads: 1,656
"We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 6, 2016 04:45 AM EST Reads: 1,002
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
Dec. 6, 2016 04:30 AM EST Reads: 1,935
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 6, 2016 12:45 AM EST Reads: 868
According to Forrester Research, every business will become either a digital predator or digital prey by 2020. To avoid demise, organizations must rapidly create new sources of value in their end-to-end customer experiences. True digital predators also must break down information and process silos and extend digital transformation initiatives to empower employees with the digital resources needed to win, serve, and retain customers.
Dec. 6, 2016 12:30 AM EST Reads: 1,201
The IoT is changing the way enterprises conduct business. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how businesses can gain an edge over competitors by empowering consumers to take control through IoT. He cited examples such as a Washington, D.C.-based sports club that leveraged IoT and the cloud to develop a comprehensive booking system. He also highlighted how IoT can revitalize and restore outdated business models, making them profitable ...
Dec. 6, 2016 12:30 AM EST Reads: 4,593
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Dec. 6, 2016 12:00 AM EST Reads: 918
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 5, 2016 10:30 PM EST Reads: 1,070