Who Said You Could Remove Features?

The iTunes loving world was rocked with the release of iTunes 11 and the removal of several features.  After something similar with iMovie ’08 and Final Cut Pro X and how high profile those removals were, you’d think that this is an Apple thing – but that would be unfair, since other companies, such as Microsoft and Techsmith also have done this. Software upgrades consist of fixes, improvements and new features. There are times when its right to remove – but most often not.

Now Apple has gone and done it again with Garageband’s loss of podcasting features and also left out iWork features in their most recent update (though claim they will be restored). Should vendors feel they get a pass when they remove features?

Lets get it out of the way that sometimes it is necessary to remove some features.

Unsupported Third Party Libraries

If a piece of software relies on a component which is broken under modern operating systems, and the vendor has little control over that component, there is little they can do about it. That’s why so many 64 bit applications lack features that are available under 32 bit mode. For example, implementing support for SketchUp import/export has been stymied by the fact that the SDK for doing it isn’t 64 bit compatible. Adding features that require third party libraries include a reliance on the third parties themselves.

Porting Issues

That seems to be the case with Apple leaving out iWork features that they claim are coming back. This is a bit less blame free than Unsupported Third Party Libraries – as a vendor, Apple a vendor has access to all original code.

If you leave out critical features in a release, you are shipping a beta quality product. That’s how the industry used to work. However to give SJ is due, Apple conditioned its customers somewhat to expect beta quality products when it shipped the first several releases of Mac OS X 10.0- 10.3.

File i/o support is one of the most critical features of any document based software product. In fact, there’s no guarantee that Apple would have restored those features when they shipped the new iWork – that they didn’t mention it when it shipped either shows a huge disregard of their customers or they were internally debating if they would restore the features or not. Either way – the usefulness of a product in a business environment is that mission critical features are consistently supported.

Total Irrelevance

What if noone is using the feature at all? The real problem facing developers is that there is almost no way to tell how important a feature is to its customer base. They could build in something that tracks how important a feature is by usage – vendors would love to be able to get that kind of feedback – but its a rare customer that allows that kind of intrusion. If a feature is based on outmoded or unsupported technology, then often its rendered irrelevant to most because the customer has already found a workaround of some kind. For example, Quicktime used to have some very powerful interactive features that purportedly were cross platform, the one time Quicktime Interactive. Apple failed to follow through on the cross platform support so customers found other technologies.

What You Can Do

First thing – ignore the rapid Mac cultists.  There are long time Apple product buyers who have almost a battered spouse syndrome when it comes to defending Apple’s actions. Some of these folks spent years trying to justify Apple products to their peers and work places back when Apple’s market share was dropping into the lower single digits. They will say things like:

  • That feature isn’t necessary
  • You don’t know what you are talking about
  • It is worse over on Windows, so don’t complain
  • Apple can do anything it wants
  • Stop being a whiner

In short, all the same sort of defensive snap backs you used to get on the schoolyard. You get this same type of behavior from hard core open source fanatics who love a project so much that they suggest its use for things which are not appropriate.

What you should do is this – if a vendor doesn’t supply a work around OR its dependent on third parties:

  • Understand if its really a feature that has any meaning to you at all and if its even possible for the vendor to keep supporting it
  • Do a cursory search to see if there’s an easy work around; it is entirely legitimate for a vendor to provide  a work around for a technology they can no longer support
  • Tweet your concise feelings on Twitter with appropriate hashtags, and post on Facebook; Apple spends a lot of money on social media, so this should get their attention, more than any direct technical support
  • Sign any online petitions
  • Don’t let it die; vendors pay attention to problems that don’t go away




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