Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Good Software Design is Innovative

Ten Principles of Good Design Redux | Part 1

If I were to propose a software system design based on a 40-year-old model for distributed computing, i.e. a classic 2-tiered Client/Server Model, would that be a good design, even if I used current technologies, e.g. the .NET Framework 4 or the latest JDK?

The case can be made that innovation is motivated by a company’s financial and competitive umwelt. That is definitely true, but I would assert that this is an effect rather than a cause. I believe that humans are driven by an innate instinct to improve and optimize our tools to maximize our survivability as a species. That is not to say that all innovation always moves us forward; some innovation can be positively retrogressive in the context of the survivability of our species. On the whole though I do believe that innovation moves us, in the large, to a better place. And innovation in software technology is no exception.

So to answer my earlier question; there might be some very niche cases where a design based on the classic 2-tiered Client/Server Model might represent a good design, but in general I would assert that it would not. Having tested the model thoroughly over the last 40 years we have discovered its obvious, and even subtle, flaws and weaknesses and have innovated new and improved models to address those shortcomings. The case can also be made that the problems that we are trying to solve have themselves significantly evolved and mutated, and that the old models have limited to no utility in light of these transmogrifications.

One of the most glaring limitations of the classic 2-tiered Client/Server model is that software designed using this model does not age well; because of the typically high degree of coupling between the domain and presentation logic, it becomes more and more difficult to modify the application as it ages, and it makes replacement of the user interface technology almost impossible. The model seems to have a innate “drag” that accelerates the accrual of technical debt over time, inevitably leading to the technical bankruptcy of the system or application.

To be clear, I do not espouse innovation for innovation sake, or using emerging software technologies just because they are new. I do espouse keeping one lazy eye on the bleeding edge of innovation, and always considering how these emerging technologies might simplify or improve an application or system.

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