Last Friday Stephen Hackett wrote an interesting piece at 512 Pixels about software rot.
The vast majority of people will never need to run operating systems like Mac OS X Server 1.0 or older software titles like MacPaint. As a self-proclaimed Apple historian, I am interested in keeping it accessible.
Deep inside, I know it’s a losing battle.
One of the things Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple in 1997 was to throw away all of the old relics that the company had enshrined. It was important to leave the past behind and look towards the future. I don’t see the need to prop up old stuff. Keeping it functional can be unhealthy, actually. Hackett’s example of the Antennagate app is a reminder of a product that had a problem with it. What’s worth remembering about that?
If the solution to a problem is so good that it’s worth reusing, on the other hand, it’ll get reused, and it’ll be present in currently working software. The concept of “survival of the fittest” is important here. We should keep the stuff that works, and throw away the rest. Code that isn’t somewhere in currently working software isn’t worth remembering.
Hackett also wrote:
I believe that to understand where we are and where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. That includes the technology we use.
Software is only valuable to the extent that it is being used today. If the software I write tomorrow is not in use 100 years from now, I couldn’t care less if it existed on a repository on a GitHub server or not. It served its purpose in its time, just as the Antennagate app served its purpose in its time.
Overvaluing unusable software is an effort in futility. If the original creator of an app no longer deems it important to preserve, why should we?
I love what Hackett’s doing at 512 Pixels, but this one’s off.