The Pareto principle is an observation that about 80% of outcomes are due to 20% of actors, whether people, processes, events, or other causes. And it’s likely that 80% of the benefit from a piece of software comes from 20% of its capabilities. Why care about advanced Microsoft Word formatting choices when all most people need is the remarkable ability of an electronic typewriter that can erase mistakes without the application of correction fluid to a page?

Oversimplified to a degree, yes, but the basic idea is correct. Software becomes overbuilt and over-featured over time for business reasons. The history of the industry is wrapped up with the need for ongoing revenue. Users indefinitely could continue with the license they purchased. Vendors then sold upgrades with new features and eventually stopping support for the earlier versions. Then the industry turned to cloud-hosted systems and an older model of software rental from mainframe days. Want to use the application next year? You paid the annual fee. But to avoid resentment and try to push competition away, the vendors kept adding features.

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Erik Sherman


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