Understanding Philosophy Behind Software

In the deep, florescent-lit bowels of software developer’s offices, people struggle for new ideas. They seek new features and ideas for their users. Some ideas are good and some are bad, but one thing is certain: software companies that do not change their products get crushed by newer, more innovative upstarts. This creates a bit of a paradox for users like us, though. On one hand, we are attracted to shiny, new things. On the other, we can complain bitterly when developers radically change the look and feel of the programs we know and trust. Still, software has to change; it must evolve or it will be eaten.

I realized, recently, that I had gotten complacent. I learned that I knew precious little about Microsoft Outlook – a tool which I had used daily for more years than I could remember. During the last decade or so, Microsoft has been releasing more than just new features. They have been releasing new philosophies on workflow management. Seen individually, the new features may leave you cold, but once you understand the new philosophical approach to message management, the features begin to sound interesting.

It is important to understand the philosophical stance and approach of software vendors. For example, understanding the recommended best practices for a product like Outlook can improve productivity and decrease stress (do a Google search for “Outlook best practices” to learn how to keep your Inbox completely empty). Perceiving the philosophical positioning for a company like Facebook may prevent you from exposing more personal information than you would like.

As users, we must stay educated enough to not be left behind, a situation that cloud-hosted applications have made a necessity. Most of us realize that Facebook houses personal information, and shares it between people. Indeed, that is the point of the entire platform. When Facebook adds new features or changes its security policies, we need to pay attention. Our understanding of the very nature of the company itself mandates that we understand exactly what is going to be shared with whom, or we will find ourselves sharing everything with everyone.

After considering Facebook’s mission, privacy concerns caused some people to move from Facebook to Google+. They felt that Google’s philosophical positioning made them a better steward of personal information. As of March 1st, Google made core changes in how they handle your data. Traditional programs only changed after you installed a new software version or update, an action that created a clear line of delineation for users. Not so with cloud-hosted applications. On March 1st, you were given a choice to opt-in or opt-out to continue using Google products. Opting in created a “simpler, more intuitive Google experience”. This is done by sharing your detailed information between all of Google’s numerous applications, including YouTube, Google+, and GMail. While this is not supposed to expose your details to 3rd parties, some people feel that the centralization of their vast personal profiling information pool represents a clear change in Google’s philosophical stance.

Understanding the philosophy behind a particular feature, program, or company can certainly be helpful. In the workplace, a little time spent learning how to use the latest features for regularly used programs can reap big rewards. Look for and pay special attention to “best practice” documents. These often provide significant insight into the developer’s actual intentions. At home, pay attention when the companies you rely on say that they are changing their security settings, creating more connectivity between applications, or sharing information with “vender partners”. Ten minutes of web research can go a long way.


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