The age of easy things in software development

With the advent of App Stores in many platforms we’ve seen a change in programming paradigm and a decrease in software quality in general.

When there was no other option to sell your product other than making it so good that word of mouth would carry if forward, developers invested a lot of time in the quality of their code and great pieces of software were produced. But now, with stores and fast distribution channels for the many platforms, software developers realized that shelf time of most of their products is very short in these stores — that are the de facto channel for software distribution. This pushes software developers to lower quality software. It is not an intentional decision, but is a matter of survival and having a quick meal while the food is hot.

The tools to develop software are more accessible and widespread while at the same time more cross platform. Write code once and distribute everywhere is of interest for comercial developers that save time and optimise workflows to be more productive. This “productivity race” has created a situation where quality software is more difficult to obtain and in the meanwhile we are seeing a lot of subpar products that are cheap, but one has the feeling they will never see an update because the brains behind it have moved on to another quick-buck-to-be-made.

Can we solve this? I don’t really know if we can. A few years ago while discussing with Maria João Valente about software she was in the camp of those defending the little app developer charging some money for it and her argument against open source versions was that the paid version would have more quality because of the commitment of the developer with the client, forcing a cycle of interaction that ultimately would drive the quality of the product up. And it was hard to fight this argument. In the Mac environment there were many examples of software that were just perfect examples.

But today, with the profusion of the stores can we still say the same? I’d probably say that 90% of the paid software in the stores is useless or broken or of dubious quality. I would argue that Open Source on the other hand, with all its flaws, still offers a more rewarding experience — even if at a slower pace. And as the software production is not driven by the need to make a quick buck, its quality increases steadily over time. Is open source the solution for everything and everyone. Some will say it is, some will say no. But its importance is without a doubt different from that of a few years ago. Every time a website prompts me to visit the “App Store” I immediately ask myself it it is worth even that click.