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June 21, 2008


I have been glancing through the book Affluenza, after my son got it from the library for a school report. The book is somewhat repetitive and you can probably get the gist of it by reading the blurb on amazon, or (if you are on Microsoft corpnet and can read it for free) the getAbstract summary, but it makes some good points.

So the book is ranting about people buying too much stuff and how this is ruining everything, and it occurred to me that Microsoft's corporate values seem to be very much in line with the forces that Affluenza is railing against. We encourage people to buy new computers to take advantage of new features, to replace their cell phones with Windows Mobile devices, to buy a new car with our software, etc. And we are now moving in the direction of targeting ads at people, in other words basing a business on telling people "here is some new crap that you didn't even know you needed."

Now, I'm not saying we're any worse than any other consumer company that depends on people buying new stuff to stay in business. There are certainly areas where we try to be eco-conscious: on campus they are replacing the polystyrene cups and utensils and compostable ones. But it seems the progressive view would be to step back and work to sell people software that does NOT require new machines to run it. Given that most of our projects are just bits that produce no carbon footprint, it would be nice to avoid having to drag so much silicon and plastic along with them.

Posted by AdamBa at June 21, 2008 04:54 PM


News flash! Capitalism might not be sustainable.

Of course everyone is in the business of getting people to buy more stuff than they really need. That's how it works. Relax. Enjoy driving your BMW.

Posted by: Tim at June 21, 2008 08:27 PM

I've had similar thoughts about this.

The problem with consumer software is that on the demand side buyers typically don't know what they want their software to do so they "play safe" and assume that a package with more features is better. I think Joel Spolsky has commented in the past that the one thing that consistently causes sustained improvement in Fog Creek's business is the addition of new features.

The same lack of clarity and understanding around requirements seems to exist on the development side as well. There's also the issue that developers are paid to write shipping code and adding whizzy new features using the language de jour is a lot more fun than sweating out optimized versions of existing features.

It's interesting to me that constrained computing environments like the EEE PC and iPhone are gaining in popularity. There are already signs that this is forcing the consumer software world to adapt. The announcement that Win XP's life is being extended to allow shipment in this type of PC is a good example of a reaction. Apple's decision to not allow user apps to run in the background on the iPhone (unlike Windows Mobile and Android) is a great example of thinking ahead.

Posted by: Andrew at June 22, 2008 03:43 PM