Monday, April 06, 2009

Those Who Fail to Remember (Software) History

I found myself reading Almost Perfect over the weekend, the history of WordPerfect as told by one of the guys who was there from the beginning. It's a good read, but I definitely get a hint of it's good to be king syndrome from this guy. He'd tell his employees to leave their personal lives at the door while boasting about his personal life blending into his business life. And then he'd tell his employees at the company holiday party he was sick of hearing them complain and if they had a problem they should quit. Yeah, that's a productive way to deal with morale. There's a great big gray area between I love all aspects of my job and would change nothing about it and I dislike my job enough that I want to quit. Most of us fall somewhere between those 2 extremes. Personally I'd try to move my employees closer to the I love all aspects of my job side and further away from the I want to quit side, but that's just me. Still, there's one great bit in there about software copy protection:

Until the last minute we had planned a simple, key disk copy protection for 4.0. This required the customer to put a WordPerfect diskette into the computer each time the program was started. I personally did not enjoy the procedure and begged Alan to use it himself before we shipped. He had been using non-protected software on his own machine to avoid the inconvenience of switching back and forth between P-Edit and WordPerfect. After about fifteen minutes of use, Alan told the developers to drop the protection. It was so close to the release that we did not have time to remove the key symbol, which signified a copy protected diskette, from the diskette labels.

Dropping the copy protection was a good decision. Although we would still copy protect some of our software in Europe, it was not a good idea for the United States. Many businesses in the US were coming to the conclusion that they were not willing to live with the inconvenience of copy protection. Even 1-2-3 would eventually drop it. It was simply not fair to make the good, paying customers put up with an inconvenience caused by the bad ones. In the end, what was good for the legal customers was also good for our bottom line.

Yet another lesson learned 25 years ago that the industry must re-learn. I've long suspected that people who advocate the use of copy-protection and software licensing have forgotten/repressed what it's like to actually use a piece of protected software; this lends support to that hypothesis.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

If You Can't Explain the Rules, They're Too Complicated

One of my early experiences with this concept came while implementing a Revert button in an application I worked on. It did pretty much what you expect it would; if you made one or more changes on the current screen, you could click that button and it would undo those changes. I implemented it in a perfectly logical way given how this application communicated with its server. Unfortunately, when it came time for me to explain to the tech writer how this button worked, some of the subtleties caused by what I thought was a perfectly logical implementation made it difficult to explain how the button actually worked. Part of the documentation for this button ended up saying something like the best way to understand how this feature works is to use it.

I was reminded of this while reading the instructions for the California Alternate Minimum Tax. When I hit upon the line in the tax forms telling me to write in my Alternate Minimum Tax, I naturally checked the instructions to see if I needed to fill anything in. I was hoping they'd say something like If your taxable income is less than x% of your adjusted gross income, you need to fill out Schedule P (the form one files when they have to pay AMT). That's when I came across this gem: Complete Schedule P (540NR) to see if AMT applies to you. Brilliant. Apparently the best way to understand the Alternative Minimum Tax is to fill out the Alternative Minimum Tax form.

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Anonymous Luke said...

Ah the AMT. Something you pray you'll never run into, and I'm sure you won't unless you become very, very wealthy. I've run into one client in my three years of doing taxes that has had to pay AMT.

Also, I'm pretty sure the IRS barely understands how it works, much less the average citizen.

5/28/2009 6:04 PM  

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