February 2010
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Day February 4, 2010

Do I still use that piece of software?

Spending a few days bedridden with some nasty viral thing is giving me the unusual chance to spend time with my main laptop, but without the pressure to actually accomplish something (that would require lucidity and the ability to focus for more than a couple of minutes). A few minutes ago, I noticed an icon in my menu bar, and wondered “do I still need that piece of software?.” Heck, what does it do?

Of course I recognized the name, and that I’d been a user since their beta release, and I remembered renewing my license again this year, but what I couldn’t immediately remember was whether that software was still an integral part of keeping my information current, sync’d, backed up, etc. Basically, is it necessary, or is it cruft?

That’s a general problem these days, and arguably it’s a worse problem on the Mac platform than on Windows, though of course it exists there as well. It’s more of a problem because Microsoft tries to build more of this stuff into Windows itself and its major desktop/server suites. Apple leaves more of it to the ISV community.

And as I noted in a previous post, good Mac software can be had for twenty, forty or sixty bucks. So people, especially professionals and developers, have a tendency to buy new apps just to see if it’s a bit better than the previous generation. I’ve done that with notetaking software, outliners, todo list management, and a bewildering variety of synchronization, backup, and storage apps and utilities.

All of which means that my laptop consistently has more than one “appendix” running — part of the system but functionally useless because it’s not being used.

And all which contributes to complexity and difficulty in troubleshooting. When my contacts database suddenly is empty, or has three or four copies of every contact (both of which seem to happen to me), which link in the synchronization chain is responsible? Is it syncing Address Book to Google Contacts? Plaxo syncing with Address Book?

Ultimately, to manage all this complexity, we’re going to need to be able to map the information flow between applications, so I can ask the question and get an answer. Today, I have to sit down and check each app’s preferences and configuration, and sort of make a list of where things are flowing, and rebuild the picture every time something goes wrong.

In complex systems, just as much vital information is contained in the links between things, as in the things themselves…