Mon, 24 Mar 2008

Open Source Software Development, Rant #1

— SjG @ 3:15 pm

Loath as I am to admit it, I know why Microsoft products all suffer from creeping featuritis. It’s because users are so damn creative.

In developing modules for CMS Made Simple, I’m continuously receiving feature requests. Some are reasonable. Many are not.

“Could you extend your can opener to handle sardine tins as well as standard cylindrical cans?”

“I know it’s supposed to be a can opener, but I find it works well in extricating people from burning wreckage, so I was wondering if you could add a fire-hose feature, and maybe a siren or flashing lights.”

The skill I need to develop is saying “no” in an acceptable way. It’s easy when the requester phrases the question like “add this, or I won’t use your stupid system!” Yeah. Well. Golly, I’ll be awfully sad to see ’em go. Similarly, the ever-popular “it’s embarrassing to tell my client that I can’t provide them feature Y because you didn’t implement it!” always brings me copious, bitter tears at the thought of their shame and tragedy. Cry me a river indeed.

It’s a bit harder when the request is along the lines of “to be a truly professional system, it really should have feature Z,” because then I have to assess whether or not it really would be a professional grade feature.

Hardest yet is when someone requests a feature and gives at least a basic explanation of why it would be good for the project as a whole (in addition to their specific need). Even if I can’t see that I would use the feature myself, this will often sway me and I’ll add features, even against my better judgment.

Then, of course, there’s cash, which has a peculiar way of getting features added, no matter how ridiculous.

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