In defense of bloatware

How many of you believe that Microsoft Office is a bloatware? I bet a majority but I believe otherwise. (Sidenote: Bloatware or software bloat is a derogatory term used to refer to software applications that implement extraneous features.)

A person who labels software as bloated believe there is only one kind user. Of course, there could be a million people using the software. But what John Doe believes is everybody needs the same set of features, particularly only the features he uses. But the reality is there is no single type of user unless you are developing a custom software for a defined and narrow target market. If you are developing software you intend to sell in millions, you would be dealing with a lot of users with a high degree of variation of what they need and don’t need.

My wife is happy formatting each paragraph in her Word documents while I prefer using styles. I could be using 10% of the features while she uses another 10% while my neighbor uses another 10%. Software like Microsoft Office and OpenOffice will always be categorized as bloatware. There’s no escaping that and the alternative to cut down 80% of the features is suicide.

The challenge for software shops is to design the application so that a user can get to the feature she needs. It is about designing the interface and organizing the features that require people less time. It is not easy. That’s why I appreciate the efforts of guys like Jensen Harris who is making radical changes to the Microsoft Office interface to improve the experience of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.


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