The Evolution of Software Bloat

[This post was originally made in the discussion forum for a graduate class titled “Multimedia Technologies and Design Principles”.]

The evolution seems to go something like this…

A great idea is hatched for a simple program to do “A”. Easy to use, easy to learn and it does “A” very, very well. Bunches of people who need to do “A” use the program and all is bliss. Everyone has the program, sales start to slip and the builders of the program respond by modifying the program to do “AB”. And the same cycle occurs except the program is a liiiiiiiiiittle bit more complicated. A couple of major releases and sales cycles and the program now does “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY” and it’s a looooooooooooot more complicated and veeeeeeeeeeeery difficult to learn and use. But it does “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY” very well. Problem is, the vast majority of users only want the program to do a couple of things from the “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY” feature set. At the far end of this evolutionary process we have programs like Photoshop, evidenced by the fact “photoshop” has become a verb. Racing to that extreme is everyone’s beloved PowerPoint. Let’s call this “evolutionary bloat.”

Have a look at this short video:

Office Casual: Make better PowerPoint presentations

Excellent points in a brief presentation. Following the author’s suggestions for effective PowerPoint presentations, how many of the features (Transitions, I’m talking to you now.) within the program are actually needed? Easy answer: not many. PowerPoint: designed and built to replace overhead projector transparencies and yet many in this class, and presumably thousands of other people, want to use the program to create multimedia learning programs. And there it is, evolutionary bloat. I can well imagine the next generation of students in this class complaining how difficult it is to use PowerPoint and how they would much rather use Notepad Pro, Enterprise Edition.

PowerPoint already does what it was designed to do and has been very good at that for years. Where it is at is where it was pushed by requests to have the program do “just one more itty, bitty thing before I feel comfortable buying the program.” A book I’d recommend:

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds

I’ve used many of the ideas presented in this book for user interface designs as well as business presentations. Keeping it simple for business presentations or learning programs so as not to detract from the message or content is something no software program will every be able to do. It’s a designer thing. If your message or learning program are any good, why hide behind the special effects?


  1. As more software goes down this road, FOS will start to look so much better (especially the more polished offerings). For instance, I’ve almost completely abandoned powerpoint for technical presentations in favor of free software that allows me to write in markdown syntax and convert to HTML.

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