Is software ever finished?

June 5, 2021
2 mins
cartoon drawing of man sitting on an armchair with a laptop
a guy on his laptop

Is software ever finished?

At first glance, it seems like a dumb question. No, of course, it can’t be finished! But consider there are some cases where new features aren’t a good thing. Take; the hobbyist musician. 

They learn how to use music production software like Ableton Live, and then they start making songs with their setup. Constantly changing software means they have to spend their time relearning processes, not on writing music. The changes subtract from that user’s experience. From a different perspective: if a piano changed every year, we would have far fewer proficient piano players. Isn’t proficiency in software a similar skill that one could master?

To further investigate, let’s consider a note-taking app. You might play around with a few apps until you find one that suits your needs. Once you pick one you’re set! You get on with the note-taking and build your knowledge base. Changing that software risks losing users who have become proficient in it.

So, the case could be made for software that satisfies a large enough set of users, and call it done.

But of course, operating systems get updated, and new devices enter the market. An app needs to be updated to stay relevant, or at least to stay functional. Even if it’s feature complete it’s unlikely users will stick around as new software becomes available. You’d need some die-hard fans to call it ‘done’.

So, is software ever finished? It looks like no, even if you don’t add features it has to be maintained. It’s like a garden. You can keep pulling weeds and planting the same plants, but if you go away for a few years, nature will take over and that app will cease to exist.

If you liked this topic check out Design Details Episode 400 where they talk about this responding to my tweet.

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