Car trouble – a possible metaphor for new software ?

A little over a year ago I mentioned I had taken delivery of a big Citroen. It’s my seventh, I’ve likened it to driving a church – not as a criticism but because of the sense of serenity inside, due in no small part to Citroen’s clever HydroPneumatic suspension. Last night as I was leaving work a warning message appeared: “Suspension failure – do not exceed 55 MPH”. Initially I thought it might be a diagnostic problem, but as the journey went on it was clear that there was something seriously wrong – 15 years ago Citroen number 3 had a hydraulic leak and the early stages of that felt similar (on that model brakes and Power steering were on the same hydraulic system as the suspension, and this happened when working at the other end of the country; the last part of the journey to the local Citroen dealer was memorably scary.).

Systems whirred into place and the local Avis got a call to deliver me a car, which the did amazingly quickly. So I have been driving another car today. Its ride was worse than the faulty Citroen. The brakes were didn’t feel right, the power curve of the engine seemed wrong, the seats were very nice leather - which is odd on a rental car – but wrong. Control positions, wrong. Heating and Air con: wrong. Instruments, strangely styled and , you guessed it, they’re just wrong too. Though I did have to concede it has boot the size of Belgium.* The odd thing is that this has been one of the best selling cars in Europe for years. Clearly a lot of people don’t seem to think there is anything wrong, with the controls, instruments, road manners and so on. It’s just a question of being used to something else. As a former colleague once put it WIKIWIL: what-I-Know-is-what-I-Like. 

Since I put the final version of Windows 7 on my laptop, I haven’t installed Mind Genius – my preferred mind mapping software, and I’ve got a couple of things simmering away in my head which need it, and so I installed the new version 3 on tonight. It uses the office 2007 style ribbon. I knew and liked both version 1 and 2, but the adoption of the ribbon takes me back to when office 2007 arrived; what was familiar was taken away and it all felt wrong. I can’t recall anyone telling me they liked the ribbon on first sight, but very few have maintained a dislike after a few hours working with it. My first hour exploring Mind Genius 3 has been the same, grinding of teeth and wanting to shout “why did they have to change it” with the occasional “OK, that’s clever”. I expect the new version will work better than the old – they have not taken away the ability to thoughts in quickly which is the essence of Mind Mapping.

Working as an evangelist for new versions of software it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing those who don’t take to it as luddites. Today was a good a reminder for me that it takes a while to persuade me of a change, so why shouldn’t other people be the same? Even things which are “better” aren’t to everyone’s taste. It was a timely reminder because of  mail  I had today, which asked
“What the hell is the point of libraries and if you have the name of the person whose idea they were please post it for summary flaming”
Now, a mail entirely in that vein wouldn’t normally get an answer, but the writer made some good and intelligent points so I’m going to devote the next blog post to that.


* For any US readers “boot” = Trunk, and “Belgium” is a country which produces proper chocolate. 

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