Creeping featurism

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~ Rcmurphy on Creeping featurism

Creeping featurism (scientific name creeping featuritis) is a mental disorder that mostly strikes people involved in computer science, including software architects, developers and project managers.

Since the original introduction of the term by the Church of vi, the definition of creeping featurism has expanded to a 5-page opus that is hardly relevant for the purposes of this article. Therefore, we shall use the Modified Original Definition, whose only difference from the actual original definition is the absence of the words "rms" and "Emacs".


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Creeping featurism is the urge to feature as many things as possible within the given time period to the detriment of other goals, such as simplicity, compactness, stability, misspelling reduction, humor value, funniness, public approval, evolution of competing works, usefulness, efficiency, common sense, fitness, standard compliance, and many other that are hardly relevant for the purposes of this definition, but which you can add later should you desire.



In the olden days, when the sky was clear and a Unix distribution could fit on an 8-inch floppy disk, creeping featurism was allegedly unheard of — a theory that is hard to verify, as The Corporations supposedly burnt all evidence. The few survivors of that era tell stories about users memorizing the not so numerous vi commands, writing complex software with the aid of no more than 0x11 system calls, and compiling it with the only C compiler that existed on Earth at that point, which supported about five compilation options. C++ was like a rather insignificant menace on the horizon, the Windows API hasn't been developed yet, and Java and .NET only existed in the form of prophetic nightmares.

The first strike was made in 1984, the infamous year when software freedom was crippled beyond all imaginable points, with the GNU/Emacs operating system. GNU/Emacs, or occasionally just Emacs, as everyone except the Free Sockpuppet Foundation preferred to call it despite rms's objections, quickly rose in popularity due to features unheard of in the camp of its rival Unix: an integrated web browser, shell, compiler, debugger, Digger, psychotherapist, all of them relatively C-easy-M-to-use, ignited the community more effectively than the well-known flammable animal would do years later.

Unfortunately for the FSF, the entirety of GNU/Emacs, including the kernel and userspace utilities, was sporked by a bunch of lucid dreamers to create Lucid Emacs, or just XEmacs (no relation to the X Window System, which was immunized from creeping featurism), and the two systems were henceforth doomed to endlessly compete with each other, each feature making the possibility of a waitpid() less and less likely. rms, enraged, vowed to find a cure for creeping featurism, and spent the following years developing Project TURD.

The epidemy takes shape

One of the first programs to succumb to the temptation of creeping featurism.

It turned out that rms overestimated the demands of common users. Having declared that the first incarnation of a GNU system kernel (Emacs was the zeroth) would be a microkernel, free from creeping featurism (by reducing the number of system calls to the almighty OSRC (open/send/receive/close), the FSF found itself in political isolation. People who didn't want to sacrifice features for robustness left FSF to form the OSRC movement, but this time, OSRC stood for "open source". As it was explained, they emphasised the "openness for new features" instead of "feature-free software".

Within the same timeframe, small time skeezes not being relevant for the purposes of this article, Linus Torvalds developed his megakernel, a kernel so powerful that it was often mistaken for an operating system. All functionality Linus could think of, and some he couldn't but others could, was put inside the kernel, so the only thing software was required to do was write tiny GUI wrappers atop all this, and the KDE project was born, intending to use every single program and library present on a customer's computer. Linux distributors also found themselves subject to creeping featurism by making the default setup install 3.5 GB of software the end users had never heard of.

Therefore, Linux development stagnated until, in accordance to Moore's Law, computers barely able to run it were invented. Until then, users suffered from Microsoft's version of creeping featurism. The backend was as insecure as a house with all gates and windows open, but users didn't care. They went, "Oh, wow, shiny objects! Oh, wow, it takes a whole two hours to crash spontaneously! Oh, wow, what is this 'e' button?" While Microsoft couldn't implement all the features of KDE, they succeeded in creating a collection of loosely-related features that, in the end, was usable. The consequences of which still aren't fully understood today.

The standards confinements give up

On the other hand, developers of this software system didn't suffer from creeping featurism.

By 199X, nobody gave a damn about standards, policies, guidelines, or compatibility considerations. All software eventually evolved until it could read mail, and those packages that couldn't simply died out. The competition between the 'e' and 'N' browsers over the matter of "Who will violate more W3C requirements" resulted in the later's bannination from the Internet, and shortly after, Microsoft completely discontinued its Feature Experience® program, instead concentrating solely on the user interface. As a result, window decorations became shiny, rotating and containing at least one 'e', signifying the beginning of the User Experience® era. Creeping featurism was abolished; the existing number of features already made the software unmaintainable. Further __declspec(improvements) were only meant to introduce more standards deviation.

And then there was GNOME, which by that time had become sufficiently featureless. And Firefox. It was born by taking all the feature-heavy code from the remains of Netscape... Mozilla... Gecko... whatever, and repackaging it with a shiny, but not rotating, icon. It turned out that programs which had fewer features with each release generated popularity with exponential speed, even if they consumed more resources. The Firefox phenomenon became frequently cited on Uncyclopedia, vandals of which inserted thousands of fake quotes from Steve Ballmer allegedly threatening to kill Firefox, and eventually induced the IRC cabal to (after exterminating the quotes) conduct an experiment that shook the very foundations of the world.

Moral and proposed cure

In vile hands, even an inherently minimalistic browser can be corrupted by the touch of creeping featurism.

Creeping featurism remains a menace nowadays, although significantly less deadly than flu. In fact, the only registered deaths from creeping featurism are those of two KDE developers who died of laughter after seeing the leaked screenshot of GNOME 3.0 alpha. It didn't stop the KDE team, however, from implementing a dozen new antialiased visual styles to compete with Windows Vista.

Some predict creeping featurism will eventually die out, as both KDE 4 and Vista are considered doomed projects to begin with, but the disease can expose its presence in areas where one least expects it. So many users misunderstand the Firefox philosophy, to the point of proposing renaming Thunderbird to "Firefox Mail", it isn't even funny. Even Firefox can be misused through the use of so-called "extensions", which creep it with unnecessary features like AdBlock, whilst external forces act to compensate, rendering these features necessary after all for those caught in the crossfire.

Therefore, the only real cure for creeping featurism is banninating everyone who asks for a useless feature from the Internet. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop admins from making unfunny features.

See also

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