Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In Response to an Anonymous Comment on my Review of Android

I wrote a scathing review of Android many months ago, intentionally being sarcastic and demeaning to what is clearly a very successful operating system. I am resisting looking up the numbers of users of Android (not necessarily programmers, end users) because I am sure they will be stunning, however much they may have been inflated by marketing scum. The reality is that whatever the numbers are, this is a very successful operating system by any measure. But all the more reason therefore to have expectations regarding the quality and the way potential developers are treated.

The point of the current post is to reply to a comment, anonymous, that I just received that suggested, tersely, that I should revisit my review of Android. The implication being either that it has changed, which I doubt, or that I am stupid or that I am wrong.

But before I begin, let me respond to a potential criticism, that I simply want new technology to be the same as old technology which I already know. No, I don't, but thank you for insulting my intelligence and motivation.

I doubt very much if Android has changed. The kind of things I was responding to are fundamental to the system and could only be changed if the people at Google wanted to change them. But it is the nature of such things that they are not changed, at least not willingly. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one but the lightbulb must sincerely want to change. Either they do not give a fuck, or they think it is great, or they dont know any better, or it was a design goal to make Android completely incompatible with everything else and have not considered what is involved for a non-Google person to do development on the device.  It may be that they are only interested in the participation of organizations with a lot of resources, and the lone developer has only marginal value.  (1)

Second, I do not think I was being unfair. I think that I got a good sense of what the design philosophy behind Android was and what Google thinks of their users (which is that they are going to do things their way and spend the time and energy and money to get up to speed, no matter what that costs). Remember this project has essentially infinite money compared to most projects in this world. If they wanted to do a good job, they could, but to do so would require that they want to do a good job and that they hire someone with the aesthetic and design sense who was capable of doing so.

It is my opinion that computers are first and foremost about aesthetics. There is very little about computing that is not about aesthetics in one way or another. Yes, there are other criteria as well which are more mundane, some obvious, some not obvious. But generally speaking, the values of those who have written or designed (if there was a design) the hardware or software have been implicitly expressed in their design and implementation.

There is nothing new in the above paragraph. This insight has been common knowledge in computing since at least the 1970s and probably before and in the other arts for much longer, centuries at least.  It is one of the reasons, perhaps the primary one, that Macintosh consistantly has a good user interface and Microsoft does not.  The author of a work necessarily reveals who they are and what their values are in that creative work whether it be a sonnet, a novel, a short story or a computer program.  One of the scary things about doing creative work is that it always reveals something about you.   (2)

Like all creative works, one can work at many levels, and one can also employ irony, sarcasm and so forth. Thus one may have to have two neurons to rub together to realize when reading Jonathan Swift's “A Modest Proposal...” that he does not actually think that people should eat Irish babies to deal with the overpopulation problem. Similarly one may write bad software to make a point, or simply because the client wanted it to be bad, as they so often do.

Now we have one more point to make. Those who are not lucky enough to have been rewarded for their work and have to get a new career in todays “great recession” have an overwhelming number of new, but not altogether well designed, frameworks, operating systems, languages and so forth to learn. When they get a job, the problem becomes much easier as long as they hold that job. Android is certainly one of those things one might learn to try and be employable. Thus when it is badly designed or deliberately difficult to use, it is particularly frustrating to those of us who are not being paid.

So my response to the anonymous commenter who tells me that I had better revisit the subject but doesn't have the guts to sign his opinion nor the time to explain why this might be so is that I would be happy to. My rate is $4K/day with a 10 day minimum due up front.

Let me know when you want to start.


1. Which may, unfortunately, be the case.

2. There are two jokes related to this "the work reflects the personality of the author".  The first is a film school joke: everyone's first film is about sex, whether they know it or not.   The second is a joke from the field of industrial organization: that an organizations building (headquarters, usually) tells us something about the company.   Thus the Pentagon tells us something about how the DOD works, and the building of the American Museum of Natural History tells us something about how the museum organizes itself.  This is one of those jokes that has an awesome amount of truth to it.

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