© 3 Jul 2013 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Is a non-removable feature evil or kind?


From 1998 to 2001 a high-profile antitrust law case in the US involved whether or not Internet Explorer should be considered part of Windows or a separate product. The general mood of the day was that making a feature you could not remove was an evil thing to do.

Yesterday I was given a tablet to experiment with as part of the curriculum for a computing class I will teach in the fall. Not being much of a techie, I have never owned anything like a tablet or smart phone before and was surprised to realise that a large number of its useless-to-me applications were non-removable. My old-school gut reaction was “‍how evil!‍”

This gut reaction was quickly mellowed, however, when I remembered a few times I had shot myself in the foot by removing some component of a system that I didn’t need directly but which was needed indirectly by something I did use. I once managed to trash a system so thoroughly this way that I had to reinstall the entire operating system from scratch.

To be kind to novice users (and experienced but foolish users like myself) there is a strong motivation to make a system tamper-proof. You find a set of configurations that work and you restrict the user from leaving that set. But this can seem “‍evil‍” when I really want to replace the built-in egg timer with a competitor’s version instead and I can’t get the built-in one to go away.

Take, for example, the “‍store‍” app that most mobile devices from any manufacturer has. On the one side, these are “‍obvious aggressive marketing‍” trying to get you to use your manufactures store and no one else’s. On the other side, though, if you remove the store (which is not even possible in most devices) then there’d need to be a separate mechanism in place for delivering product updates and the like. This path might lead to dozens of ways to do superficially-related tasks which would confuse the novice user.

Are the apps I wish would vanish a kindness or a case of greedy marketing and competition-suppression? I really don’t know. I suppose they’re likely both.

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