Rarely in the history of software has a pile of code been as reviled as “Clippy,” the animated, googly-eyed paperclip Microsoft introduced in 1997, ostensibly to help users of Office. Time magazine dubbed it one of the world’s 50 worst inventions. The man who designed it boasted that his creation, at its peak, “was annoying hundreds of millions of people a day.” Even Microsoft itself ended up creating a self-mocking ad campaign around people’s frustration with this paperclip.
So what was the problem with Clippy? To put it simply: he was bloated.
Bloatware, also often known as feature creep, is when successive versions of a program siphon ever-more memory and processing power, slowing everything down without any noticeable improvements.
Bloatware is as big a problem as ever, as “helpful” software has migrated from the desktop to the phone and into the cloud and even software-as-a-service products. Bloated SaaS is particularly vexing, because these enterprise software packages were initially sold as a slimmed-down response to bloat. According to Gartner, “By 2023, organizations will overspend $750 million dollars on unused features of IT software.”
The time has come for the tech world to learn the lessons of Clippy, and cut out the bloatware.
Why Bloatware is Getting Worse
Bloatware has grown only more endemic, moving from targeting consumers to increasingly saddling businesses. For instance:
- Engineers cook up clever new tricks and features, which becomes the rationale for adding another twist to a product – rather than innovations users need.
- The salespeople need new features to show the world that a product is growing and improving, and then they upsell the latest release.
- Larger customers demand specialized features that are now part of the product everyone uses, resulting in customers paying higher prices for features they don’t need, want or use.
This bloated software has left IT departments wasting time configuring, unconfiguring and extending pieces of “functionality” that should have been configured correctly to begin with. These complicated, hard-to-manage packages and platforms interfere with an organization’s agility, leaving IT teams distracted from focusing on what they need to do.
There are also security risks. Bloatware can expand a company’s attack surface, and an overly complex system is even harder to defend. It’s no surprise that data breaches are already on pace for a record year.
How to Stop Bloatware
In the consumer world, utilities like Should I Remove It have gained popularity as consumers look for ways to delete unwanted apps. In the business world, a newer crop of streamlined SaaS products has emerged in the past decade to help small and medium-size businesses that don’t have the IT budgets to deal with bloatware caused by feature creep.
To keep bloatware at bay, IT practitioners should do the following:
- Make app rationalization a frequent and regular activity to review all SaaS applications.
- Regularly evaluate whether to keep, rip and replace, or retire an app. In fact, managing SaaS applications should become a key measure for IT, with a goal to have less.
Another key measure to establish should be at the adoption of an application, to see whether it is being used, and if so, determining whether all features are being used as well. If the app is not being used, it should be decommissioned. If all features are not being used, it’s a candidate for rip and replace.
It’s time to kill the creep and learn our lesson from Clippy and other offenders of bloatware past. To stop the bloat, we must create software that cuts straight to the core of what users need – SaaS that is easy to customize, efficient to manage and flexible to integrate. Now that Clippy is gone, we’re headed in the right direction.
About the Author:
Prasad Ramakrishnan, CIO, Freshworks