There's that story—apparently apocryphal—of how NASA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a pen that would work in the microgravity of space, while the Russians simply carried along pencils.
Though the story is probably not true, it has enough of the ring of truth for us to believe it. We seem to like to over-engineer our solutions.
I was reminded of this the other day when a curious email came my way. You see, about a decade ago, I was part of the AutoCAD development team working on the then-new MTEXT command. Lots of cool capabilities were being introduced into the feature, and a lot of hard work was going into making it play well with the rest of the application. And it was a high goal to achieve, what with word processors having so much power under the hood.
Well, it was a feature that was well received by some, but many found they didn't need quite as much power as we had engineered into the feature. If they had a specification in Microsoft Word, for example, and they wanted to paste it into their CAD drawing, well, too much information came along for the ride. A few complaints and suggested work-arounds were being posted on the newsgroups. Word got back to us developers, and I took part of an afternoon to whip up a simple utility to address some of their needs. I fired it off in an email, and didn't think much of it thereafter.
It was a simple thing really, no frills, no fancy UI. Just a small dialog with a single button that did it's thing. But the customers loved it, because it solved a problem for them. A huge problem, it turns out, and not one that was covered in any of our customer use cases.
So fast-forward to yesterday. I get news from a customer wondering if I still had it available... seems that over time, Google had stopped indexing sites where it was downloadable. Ten years on, R14 isn't even supported anymore, and yet this utility is still solving problems. Cool!
(Okay, so that's an unfair comparison. R14 gave way to R15, AutoCAD 2000, 2000i, etc. and MTEXT is getting better with every release....)
But there's something to be said for simplicity... ;-)