And we've seen plenty of examples of great software, the really high notes, in the past few years: stuff that mediocre software developers just could not have developed.
Back in 2003, Nullsoft shipped a new version of Winamp, with the following notice on their website:
- Snazzy new look!
- Groovy new features!
- Most things actually work!
It's the last part... the "Most things actually work!" that makes everyone laugh. And then they're happy, and so they get excited about Winamp, and they use it, and tell their friends, and they think Winamp is awesome, all because they actually wrote on their website, "Most things actually work!" How cool is that?
If you threw a bunch of extra programmers onto the Windows Media Player team, would they ever hit that high note? Never in a thousand years. Because the more people you added to that team, the more likely they would be to have one real grump who thought it was unprofessional and immature to write "Most things actually work" on your website.
Not to mention the comment, "Winamp 3: Almost as new as Winamp 2!"
That kind of stuff is what made us love Winamp.
By the time AOL Time Warner Corporate Weenieheads got their hands on that thing the funny stuff from the website was gone. You can just see them, fuming and festering and snivelling like Salieri in the movie Amadeus, trying to beat down all signs of creativity which might scare one old lady in Minnesota, at the cost of wiping out anything that might have made people like the product.
Or look at the iPod. You can't change the battery. So when the battery dies, too bad. Get a new iPod. Actually, Apple will replace it if you send it back to the factory, but that costs $65.95. Wowza.
Why can't you change the battery?
My theory is that it's because Apple didn't want to mar the otherwise perfectly smooth, seamless surface of their beautiful, sexy iPod with one of those ghastly battery covers you see on other cheapo consumer crap, with the little latches that are always breaking and the seams that fill up with pocket lint and all that general yuckiness. The iPod is the most seamless piece of consumer electronics I have ever seen. It's beautiful. It feels beautiful, like a smooth river stone. One battery latch can blow the whole river stone effect.
Apple made a decision based on style, in fact, iPod is full of decisions that are based on style. And style is not something that 100 programmers at Microsoft or 200 industrial designers at the inaptly-named Creative are going to be able to achieve, because they don't have Jonathan Ive, and there aren't a heck of a lot of Jonathan Ives floating around.
I'm sorry, I can't stop talking about the iPod. That beautiful thumbwheel with its little clicky sounds ... Apple spent extra money putting a speaker in the iPod itself so that the thumbwheel clicky sounds would come from the thumbwheel. They could have saved pennies ... pennies! by playing the clicky sounds through the headphones. But the thumbwheel makes you feel like you're in control. People like to feel in control. It makes people happy to feel in control. The fact that the thumbwheel responds smoothly, fluently, and audibly to your commands makes you happy. Not like the other 6,000 pocket-sized consumer electronics bit of junk which take so long booting up that when you hit the on/off switch you have to wait a minute to find out if anything happened. Are you in control? Who knows? When was the last time you had a cell phone that went on the instant you pressed the on button?
Hitting the High Notes by Joel Spolsky, Monday, July 25, 2005