February 2015

Volume 30 Number 2

Don't Get Me Started - 5 Years Down the Road

By David Platt | February 2015

David PlattHow the hell did five years go by? I swear I just submitted the first installment of this column, entitled “The Human Touch.” In it I argued that geeks fundamentally misunderstand their users, as evidenced by their terrible designs. I chided them: “Humans are not going to stop being human any time soon, no matter how much you might wish they would evolve into something more logical. Good applications recognize this and adjust to their human users, instead of hoping, futilely, for the opposite.”

That principle certainly applies today. But my lying calendar insists that I did it in February 2010.

It was a different world then. Windows 7 still had four months before RTM. The now-ubiquitous mobile sector didn’t exist. The iPhone was only a year old, and the most popular app was the picture of a full beer stein, in which the level went down when pathetic geeks tilted their phones to their lips. The cloud meant Hotmail. My daughters still believed in Santa Claus.

It’s been quite a journey from then to now. I salute Keith Ward, the editor who recruited me for this gig before wisely fleeing to VisualStudioMagazine.com. He inflicted me on his successor, Michael Desmond, whose life I make quite interesting. And I salute Microsoft, for taking (almost) all the lumps I’ve dished out to them without squawking (much), considering it owns this magazine.

Above all, I’ve loved meeting you, my readers—through e-mails, article comments and in person at conferences. You are the reason I write, to celebrate the good and castigate the bad, and to let in the sunshine. Gadfly, jester, cynic, curmudgeon, loudmouth, conscience, jerk; call me what you will. I’m glad you’re along for the ride, because it sure would suck doing this all by myself.

“Your column is always the first page I turn to,” say some readers. “I use it to line my parakeet’s cage, with your picture facing up,” say others. I feel especially honored by the reader who said, “I can give this column to my parents, so they can understand something about what I do.”

Sometimes these columns have been painful to write, like the one about Lloyd’s daughter (aka.ms/k3so4r). And I feel like I spent much of 2011 eulogizing late industry titans. Ken Olsen (aka.ms/czi7w5). Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs (aka.ms/xzape5). Even Simba (aka.ms/ar9yxu).

Good Advice and Bad Intentions

This much I’ll say: Microsoft has done well by following my advice. It’s doing a decent job of shedding its PC blindness, as I urged back in my June 2011 column (aka.ms/d417jm). More recently, my November 2013 column, “Advice to the New CEO,” called for Redmond to start becoming a cloud and services company (aka.ms/pjuinu). Microsoft is moving well in that direction today, faster than I would have thought possible, though it’s still finding mobile devices to be tricky.

Not all my insights have been on target. I wonder what I’ll be writing for my next “Biggest Misteaks” column (aka.ms/ktri5g). Last month, I described my 2007 prediction that the “iPhone would crash in flames.” That prognostication will be hard to top, but you can count on me to keep trying. Right now, I’d be lying if I said I saw the point of wearables, like Google Glass and the smart watches now coming on the market.

The technology changes quickly, but our need to understand its impact on our users and our world doesn’t. Nor does our need to step back and have a good look at ourselves, with laughter and tears, as needed. I promise you, I won’t change that. I promise you, I’ll keep calling ’em as I see ’em, pouring oil on troubled fires, for your instruction, amusement and thought stimulation. I promise, I’ll keep doing as Robert Heinlein’s character Lazarus Long said: “Here’s one monkey that’s going to keep on climbing, and looking around him to see what he can see, as long as the tree holds out.”

David S. Platt teaches programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He’s the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.