Thursday, January 17, 2008

Project: Autonomous Revolutionary Goldfish

I was going to write, am still going to write, about how silly project names get bandied about in the software industry. But in researching this post (sorry blogosphere, I've let you down) I found that the Software-generated Gannt chart was patented by Fujitsu in the US in 1998, which to me just explains everything that is wrong with the way the US patent system is applied to software. For reference, Microsoft Project was written in 1987 (although is not strictly prior art for the patent. Project does everything in its power to prevent the user from creating a Gannt chart, in my experience).

Anyway, why is it that people care more about the fact that they're going to be using Leopard, Longhorn, Cairo, Barcelona or Niagara than about what any one of those is? As discussed in [1], naming software projects (though really I'm talking about projects in the general sense of collections of tasks in order to complete a particular goal) in the same way you might name your pet leads to an unhealthy psychological attachment to the project, causing it to develop its own (perceived) personality and vitality which can cause the project to continue long after it ought to have been killed. For every Cheetah, there's a Star Trek that didn't quite make it. And why should open source projects like Firefox or Ubuntu GNU/Linux need "code names" if their innards are supposed to be on public display?

I've decided that I know best, of course. My opinion is that, despite what people may say about project names being convenient shorthand to assist discussion, naming your project in an obtuse way splits us into the two groups which humanity adores: those of us who know, and those of you who don't. The circumstance I use to justify this is simple: if project names are mnemonics, why aren't the projects named in a mnemonic fashion? In what way does Rhapsody describe "port of OPENSTEP/Mach to PowerPC with the Platinum look and feel"? Such cultish behaviour of course leads directly to the point made in the citation; because we don't want to be the people in the know of something not worth knowing, we tend to keep our dubiously-named workflow in existence for far longer than could be dispassionately justified.

Of course, if I told you the name of the project I'm working on, you wouldn't have any idea what I'm working on ;-).

[1]Pulling the Plug: Software Project Management and the Problem of Project Escalation, Mark Keil. MIS Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 421-447

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