Why Smaller Software is Usually Better

By Deane Barker on July 29, 2003

Neil at PDFMoto and I have been talking about software development, and the differences between the big, enterprise packages, and software from smaller companies. He made a great point, and gave me permission to reprint it:

“Like so much software that seems very simple, under the hood PDFMoto is extraordinarily complex. It has to be to deal with all the strange documents people will feed it; documents with passwords, or macros, corrupt documents and so on, PDFMoto has to be able to effortlessly handle them all without complaint. It’s details like that which takes the time and the skill.

But it’s a funny thing about producing low cost software like PDFMoto, unlike expensive software where there is always an engineer on hand to install it, and swiftly move right past those little unexpected crashes, something like PDFMoto has to be far more robust, better built because folk will just throw it right out if they see it crash. I honestly think freeware/shareware drives the quality of what users come to expect.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I was working with enterprise content management, I’d be amazed sometimes at the holes companies thought they could get away with just because they arrived with an army of consultants to install it.

Products like Radio Userland, CityDesk, PDFMoto, and Movable Type are light years ahead of six-figure packages in terms of usability, ease of install (maybe not Movable Type…), and — oftentimes — documentation. Yes, enterprise packages are more complex and more functional, but that’s no excuse. I pay for that complexity and functionality, so that company can afford in invest in my user experience.

I’ve seen so much great software from smaller companies these days, that you’d have to press pretty hard to get me to sign up for anything that includes consulting hours in the deal. Bad experiences have put me in a “bottom up” mode for a long time.