Is latest the greatest? Microsoft did it again!

20 Jun

In line with Betteridge’s law of headlines, any longtime software developer or system administrator can tell you that the latest version of a software product is not necessarily the best one. With this in mind, Microsoft never fails to surprise users with ingenious bugs, or ‘features’.

Recently I have witnessed the fact that, if you run MS Word 2011 on Apple and want to draw a very simple diagram, such as two boxes and then connect them with a connector, it is simply not to possible to make that connector stick to the connection points of the boxes. In other words, you move one of the boxes, the connection breaks (which makes the word ‘connector’ sound like an oxymoron). On the other hand, if you try to do the same operation using MS Word 2010 running on MS Windows, the connector follows the boxes, giving you one of the most basic and fundamental features of a simple diagramming tool. To add insult to the injury, if you simply run MS PowerPoint 2011 on Apple, you can have the same feature, that is, you can perfectly drag your boxes and the connector will follow. There you have two programs from the same Office suite, both using the same graphics engine, one of them simply does not implement a very basic feature that other does. Moreover, the previous version works fine (at least on MS Windows). (See the explanations and comments at


I’m afraid, even such drastic failures cannot cure ‘chronological snobbery‘, many people will probably continue to associate the newest versions of technologies with better experience and reliability. As if that is not enough, if we take into account the Lindy effect, and use the simplified interpration of the mean residual time (described by John D. Cook), MS Word is here to stay for at least about 23 years more. I leave it to you to interpret this as a blessing or a curse.

Witnessing such events make me think about the Unix tradition and reminds me of the software, which after many versions still perform as expected, namely the “Pic language“. First described by the legendary figure Brian Kernighan back in 1982, its modern incarnation continues to serve our needs as part of GNU troff (groff), so that we can draw boxes and connect them¹:


or add another box and connector:


I think one can find comfort in the fact that, according to the same formula above, good old Pic language and groff utility will be around 30 years from now, so that future generations can rely on archaic but much more reliable software.

1- Assuming that you have GNU troff (groff) and the Pic code in a file named demo.pic, you can process it and view the results with the following command chain:

groff -p demo.pic > && ghostscript
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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Programlama


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