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Medicine Technology

Is "Good Enough" the Future of Technology? 350

Posted by Soulskill
from the seems-to-work-for-the-movie-industry dept.
himitsu writes "In an article titled 'The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine,' Wired claims that the future of technology, warfare and medicine will be filled with 'good enough' solutions; situations where feature-rich and expensive products are replaced with bare-bones infrastructures and solutions. 'We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they're actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as "high-quality."'"
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Is "Good Enough" the Future of Technology?

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  • already the case (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hellswaters (824112) * on Saturday August 29, 2009 @02:09AM (#29240161)
    Look at a large amount of government systems. Everything is to the cheapest bidder. But the cheapest bidder isn't always the best or product, and contains issues. Also known as 'good enough.'
  • by reporter (666905) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @02:23AM (#29240235) Homepage
    The most well-known example of technology overkill is Windows XP and its successors. Think about it for a minute. How many of the functions in these operating systems do you actually use?

    I myself use maybe 10%. There are parts (of Windows Vista) that I have never explored and will never explore. I just do not need all that functionality.

    I bet that the majority of non-technical users are just like me. Suppose that Microsoft created a "good enough" operating system called "Windows Minimum" (WM). It has 10% of the functions of Windows Vista and 10% of its size. WM would also likely be 10 times more reliable since it is small and easy to verify to be correct. Best of it, WM would likely be 10% of the price of Windows Vista. $20 is just about right for most people.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @02:27AM (#29240261)
    My line of work - which is patent law, crucify me - brings me in contact with a lot of mechanical engineers. One complaint I often get to hear from the older ones is that in ye olden days, most people in management were engineers themselves, who had worked up their way through a lifelong career. Those were the days of quality products, of taking pride in the excellence of your work. Now, as MBAs have taken over, we have the days of producing as cheap and sloppy as you can get away with. This may be partially nostalgia-filtered, but I guess it has some reality to it.
  • by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @02:27AM (#29240265)

    Contrary to popular believe its always been the case that tools and machines were made just good enough.

    The definition of "just good enough" depends almost entirely on the cost to manufacturer any given device.

    When a given tool is manufactured, its engineered to withstand its expected life span, within the budget available.

    If you know you can buy a plow that will last for 20 years for X dollars, and a longer lasting plow for a lot more money, you immediately start thinking about how much cheaper it will be to build the same plow in 5 years, after the new mine is open, and the new forge set up. If its going to be cheaper, you don't bother beefing it up.

    Things in the past were built to last their expected life time (or the life of the owner), or the duration for which the device is needed.

    Per unit Cost, and per unit lead time to manufacture just about anything has shortened progressively over the centuries.

    We don't need the plow, the ship, or the building to last that long any more, and in fact it is detrimental that they do, because that delays progress of new technology. Its easier to recycle it and build next year's model, which will be cheaper.

    I don't see anything new here. Its been this way since dirt.

    Even my long dead grandfather used to complain "They don't make em like the used to".

    Thanks for that.

  • !news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:05AM (#29240451) Journal

    I can't believe no one's mentioned "worse is better" [jwz.org] yet. An excerpt:

    I believe that worse-is-better, even in its strawman form, has better survival characteristics than the-right-thing

    Another example would be Linux. It can be argued that Minix and Gnu HURD both likely had superior designs -- in fact, at the time, Linus fully expected Linux to become irrelevant once HURD was released. It never happened -- because Linux was available now, and was free and freely modifiable now, even though it was worse, it attracted enough developers so that it ultimately became more practical for most tasks.

    And of course, the most obvious example is Windows. This follows the pattern:

    The lesson to be learned from this is that it is often undesirable to go for the right thing first. It is better to get half of the right thing available so that it spreads like a virus. Once people are hooked on it, take the time to improve it to 90% of the right thing.

    DOS was an abomination, especially considering real OSes existed at the time. Windows 3.1 was barely more than a multiplexer for DOS, and Windows 95/98/ME were similarly backward abominations. Windows NT was unusable by ordinary users until Windows 2000, and why would power users prefer it over Unix?

    Yet they were half the right thing, and they were usable by ordinary people, on the PC, faster and cheaper than anyone else.

    The story mentions netbooks, but that's just the latest iteration of this. Remember, the original PCs weren't as powerful as minicomputers, which weren't as powerful as mainframes.

  • Re:already the case (Score:4, Interesting)

    by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:28AM (#29240531)

    Interestingly, for some government contracts the lowest bidder is automatically discarded -- it is the *second* lowest bidder that gets the contract. This is a well-known theoretical mechanism for removing bullshit from the bidding process. The end price will be slightly higher, but the price will usually be more accurate for a given contract spec.

  • by blackraven14250 (902843) * on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:33AM (#29240557)
    ...then it's time for a new, unrelated industry to rise, or the economy is going to tank. Do you think the auto industry lasted forever with engineers in their management ranks? I'd say no, and around the time they started getting into that mindset, the computer industry gradually stepped in as the new high-tech industry. It has happened before, it will happen again, if there's another tech industry in our future.
  • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:38AM (#29240585)

    The most well-known example of technology overkill is Windows XP and its successors. Think about it for a minute. How many of the functions in these operating systems do you actually use?

    If an OSS advocate made this same argument as a reason to adopt Linux and OpenOffice, you'd have the OSS detractors screaming at him for not understanding business and productivity. I recall quite a flame fest over replacements for Adobe products a day or two ago.

    Windows is popular despite that it is only good enough. Linux dominates the OSS market despite its myriad shortcomings. Plenty of better solutions have come and gone, but good enough solutions spread like wildfire because they are not actually optimized to be solutions. They are optimized for one thing: spreading.

  • by gnupun (752725) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @04:04AM (#29240665)
    LOL. "Good Enough" is euphemistic code for average, mediocre, unimportant. So expect all future consumer products to exhibit that quality. Oh wait, most products already do, compared with products from 10 to 15 years ago: cars, software, movies, books etc. Is Windows 7 significantly better than the almost 10-year old XP? Other than its new GUI, it has nothing to offer other than slow, bloatedness. So why the hell should humanity improve technology if we don't get to use it while big, fat, CEOs use cheap materials and labor to increase their profits?

    If you support open source, good enough will be the norm, as in, "Linux is good enough for my software needs, I don't need/want anything else." Since open source products have less competition (hard to compete with a $0 price tag), the need to improve the product will be almost non-existent. In contrast, with closed source, there is constant competition to deliver better products as each competitor works hard to improve his product and steal his competitor's profits.
  • by cartman (18204) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @04:09AM (#29240693)
    The philosophy of "good enough" has driven most open source projects. From linux 1.x kernels to MySQL, from GIMP to KDE, many OSS projects are clones of earlier commercial projects, but with less features and for free. By saying that, I'm not insulting OSS. Most of the time, fewer features (but free) is the best value for most companies and people. That is why OSS is so influential.

    Recently, I read an article on slashdot that OSS UI development should stop imitating Mac and Windows, and should start innovating. Also, I've read various things from Eric Raymond and others that OSS should be prized for its innovativeness. But I think that's all wrong. OSS is most valuable when it's not innovative. The most successful OSS projects (like Linux, gcc, mysql, OpenSSL, and others) have been shameless clones, while the innovative OSS projects (like Hurd) died off. Of course there are exceptions, but usually OSS software is the generic drug of the software industry.

    There's nothing wrong with that.

  • by azgard (461476) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @04:37AM (#29240789)

    I am tired of all that "people are stupid and don't want quality" and "worse is better" crap. This is not true at all.

    People want quality products that last, unless they are overpriced. The problem is, it's much harder to recognize quality, especially in modern products, thus there is no market pressure for it. But there is a market pressure from the investor's end to produce as much things as possible.

    Ultimately, it's an issue of asymmetric information and trust. Consider buying a computer. Say, you have a 2 year warranty period in EU. You have two choices - one for 200$, and the other for 300$, but the producer claims it will last at least 3 years (but the warranty is still 2 years). So, which one are you going to choose? The cheaper one of course. Because you have no insurance that the other will not last say 2.5 year, in which case you would be screwed. This is a classic situation on a market with asymmetric information, as described in George Akerlof's Market for Lemons.

    Furthermore, the companies want to sell as much product as they can. Company building products to last 20 years (with warranty, so assume you can trust this deal) would be at a disadvantage to company making products to last 5 years, because the profits of the latter would be higher (it costs more to produce 4 products than 1, so with the same margin, company can make more profit). In history, companies (mostly found by idealistic engineers) believed that building quality product is better, but in the 70s the MBA types they installed instead realized they are wrong, so that's why it went downhill ever since. Even if you would try to switch companies, if all of them are doing that, it gets useful.

    It's just normal capitalism in play, but most people didn't know the rules at the beginning, and now that large companies started to optimize by the rules, it's just not fun anymore.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @05:20AM (#29240933) Homepage Journal

    "Or the continuing drive to put humans in space."

    Not sure that's a good example of anything. We haven't even attained "good enough". Much of what NASA sells us is smoke and mirrors. "Ohh, we have a space plane! Pretty!! Aren't we awesome?" The space plane never was a solution to put people into space - it's a distraction, meant to mask our lack of dedication. (The occasional man suspended temporarily just outside the atmosphere does NOT constitute "people in space")

  • by jpyeck (1368075) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @07:52AM (#29241553)

    I appreciated your examples of items that are "good enough". This is also how I feel about most of my purchases.

    I disagree, however, with your statement that we "compromise quality" in making these choices. Juran [wikipedia.org] (an American whose ideas on quality helped drive the post-war Japanese manufacturing boom) defines quality as "fitness for use". In his and many other quality-researchers' definitions of quality, quality requirements are subjective and different for each person. I.e. my "fitness for use" is different than Bill Gates "fitness for use" (interpret that in BOTH it's intended meanings!).

    Bottom line: If your personal requirements for a car are, seats 4, costs less than $25k, gets >30 mpg, the Matrix is higher quality than the Lexus, based on "fitness for use" to you.

  • Re:already the case (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eggled (1135799) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:00AM (#29241589)
    Haven't you ever heard of "good enough for government work"?
    It *was* good enough, but... um... well, that guy over there who I've never seen before mismanaged the project, and that's why it failed!
  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:18AM (#29241663) Journal

    >>>assuming most end-users would get this 'WinMin' OS instead of WinXP/Vista

    I'd simply run Win95 or NT 4. Have you ever seen how fast these OSes operate on a modern PC - zoom-zoom! I've never understood why somebody somewhere doesn't take these ancient OSes, add a few extra drivers like USB, and run them. Win NT 4 can run on just 8 megabytes! Imagine how cheaply computers could be made if they only used ~1/500th as much RAM.

    Today's modern OSes really and truly are top-heavy monstrosities.

  • by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:59AM (#29242343) Journal

    Airbags killed the AM radio star. [speedsportlife.com]

    The author argues that any savings associated with manual windows are eaten up by the costs of training assemblers to install the cheaper part. designing the door assembly to support both automatic and manual parts, and so on. I'm not sure that the site its hosted on adds much credibility, though.

  • well, duh ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ankhank (756164) * on Saturday August 29, 2009 @10:53AM (#29242915) Journal

    Reminds me of a guy laughing about the amount of precision his job required -- he worked under that mountain from which World War III was expected to be fought. Radio interviewer asked him about accuracy of the missiles used.

    He said with what they were throwing, hitting anywhere in the time zone would suffice for their purposes.

    Then he laughed and said no, no, only kidding.

  • by JSBiff (87824) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:07PM (#29243649) Journal

    then he *is* good enough. See, your problem seemms to be a misunderstanding of the terms. If the doctor screws something up, he's *not* good enough. But, a good enough doctor is just fine, and if you aren't rich, that's basically what you'll get. Most people cannot *afford* to be so damn choosy. People have this misconception that because they *want* the world to be some way, the universe will re-arrange itself around their desires. It's part of what very well might bankrupt the US with healthcare in the coming decades - *overspending* because people can't be content with 'good enough' solutions.

    I heard something on NPR recently about a guy who was trying to compare health systems around the world (although, his methodology seems rather anecdotal and therefor unconvincing, but it's still interesting). A number of years ago, he had some sort of shoulder injury. At the time, the doctors used some sort of screw to hold the shoulder together. He still has almost full usage of the shoulder, but it was starting to cause him some discomfort.

    He went to a US Orthopedic surgeon, who recommended a very expensive shoulder replacement surgery, which if it went well, would give him a near perfect replacement, but there is some risk of serious complications from the surgery that would leave him worse than before. He went to other doctors around the world (U.K., France, Japan, Canada, and I think Germany). Most of the other doctors mentioned the replacement surgery as an option, but *recommended* some sort of steroidal treatment to reduce the inflamation, coupled with some occupational therapy, which would basically get rid of the pain, and be much cheaper.

    The point is, did that guy really *need* a replacement shoulder that would cost something like $30,000 for the surgery? Probably not - the original 'fix' by the doctors years ago, really was *good enough*. People might want to complain bitterly about that, and say that is exactly what is wrong with government managed healthcare - as long as people who can afford it can 'opt out' of the government healthcare option, I really don't care if there is a 'public option', and if there is a public option, I don't expect taxpayers to have to pay ridiculous amounts of money for the 'best' solution when there is a perfectly reasonable "good enough" solution.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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