A Blackberry that crashes. I didn’t even know it existed. Until our guys from the IT department recently gave me the newest, shiniest version which – in their opinion – has a lot of additional features which I just must have, like – you know – being a CTO and all.
I soon discovered what this means. The device is heavier and features a revamped user-interface which is different from previous versions, apparently for no good reasons. It somehow feels slower too, although I can’t really point out why that is. What is more crucial: all the new capabilities clearly demanded for more complex software and this time, the developers at RIM seem to have overestimated themselves. After a few days of use, I started to encounter a decelerating Blackberry and then – finally – these good old buffer overflows came in. I must admit the panic messages are clear and crisp. But they always appear just before the system freezes completely. You’re about to perish. Have a nice day. Not really comforting.

Welcome to yet another case of Death By Features. Sad but true: even the most basic and simple applications will sooner or later show this tendency towards more, bigger and better. And it’s probably more the ambition of the product manager that is driving it, than the users that are asking for it. For RIM, it’s a relatively new problem. Other suppliers are well, somewhat more knowledgeable of the subject. Microsoft is facing yet another Hercules Challenge with the upcoming Windows Vista. At least they have a track record on improving stability with new versions (although the time penalty is obvious), but the market will have to prove it has the stomach to invest in the implementation time and the hardware upgrades that are needed to facilitate all of the new features. Even so, you can’t help wondering what irrelevant, unusable functionality is contained on the CD spindle that is typically involved when installing the newest light-weight IBM tool. And even the latest version of Apple’s iTunes met world-wide criticism for containing all sorts of bugs and a garbage sound quality. I’m a Mac; I’m a PC; iTunes is a mess on either of us. Makes you wonder how nasty the Mac OS X Leopard beast just might be.
A ZEN teacher once taught me a very simple, effective rule: if you buy something new for your house, throw something else away. And although some would argue that spiritualism in IT is harmful, I think it would work fine to beat Death By Features. I’m waiting for the first press release that will announce a new version of software that contains less functionality. Larry Ellison could be announcing Oracle 10G 2.0, now without object-to-relational mapping, embedded Java and native XML storage. Sounds good to me.
I wonder when Google will be bit by the feature bug. For now, they seem to be focussing their urge for innovation on yet another set of new applications, rather than on next versions of existing software. Let’s hope their basic incarnations of word processing and spreadsheets stay that way: for dummies, a reference for the rest of us.
In the meantime, I’m caressing the fond memories of my unbreakable Blackberry. I’m sure there will be a patch and if not, you never know what a cold reset can do. Now there’s only one island of simplicity left in my infrastructure: the Apple iPod never let me down, so far. So just don’t touch that scroll wheel, Steve. It works just fine.