Posted on Wed 05 October 2011

On Software Updates

“Good software is virtually free, regardless of its purchase price, because the payback dwarfs the investment”

Earlier this week I was reading a post on the Practically Efficient blog and it reflects much of what I think about the way software is developed.

I think this is best illustrated via two examples, text editors, I have used almost every day. I have used the Windows text editor TextPad for many years at work, developed new syntax definition files for it and actively participated in Helios Software’s user forums. The other editor is BBEdit by Barebones Software.

In some ways the two companies develop software in very similar ways - neither will speculate on future release dates or the introduction of new features, and both develop software where the interface is very clean, elegant and minimal. Each iteration of BBEdit brings genuinely useful new feature without changing the essence of the program, there are no bells and whistles, just the careful addition of genuinely useful features.

It’s probably fair to say that TextPad has stagnated by comparison. The only major revision in the last few years was focused on GUI changes and removed features that were then subsequently re-introduced. New capability that has been regularly requested by users (Editable macros, Unicode support, code folding, stronger regular expression search) looks like it may never appear.

Does it matter?

One of the strangest things I ever read on a forum was the following gem:

“What the developers want or don’t want in a product plays little part in deciding its level of either mainstream popularity or commercial success”

I would argue that the features the developers include or not in an application are critical to its success or failure. The important caveat is that all users are not looking for the same features in their application.

The important point is that neither company will speculate on future features and that’s their right. TextPad is Helios’ baby and they can choose to develop it how they will, release the end result and let the market decide whether it is successful or not. This ‘agreement’ cuts both ways though – if current users require a feature that is not currently provided they are free to look elsewhere and this is what I’ve done. I still like and use TextPad but other editors are developed faster and include Unicode capabilities that I require.

It’s very common to hear software users complaining that software is not being developed and implying that, as licensed users, they have a right to future updates.

If the software you use has made you more productive it has probably paid back that small investment many times over.

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