28 Jul 2000 hiller   » (Journeyer)

I came up with an interesting thought a few days ago, and I figured I'd share:

It's strikingly appropriate that the default office assistant in MS office is a paper clip.

My freshman year of high school, I took a drafting class. One of our assignments was to diagram and describe the form and function of a common machined object made up of no more than a few parts. A friend of mine did his report on the paper clip. During the course of his research, he discovered that by most metrics, the standard paper clip isn't well designed. It doesn't do an especially good job of holding sheafs of paper together; tends to mangle the pages a little bit; is not especially durable; and, while not difficult or slow to use, is not as easy or quick to use as it might be. In short, the paper clip does a minimally decent job of accomplishing its intended function, but no better. My friend even had a few diagrams of alternate designs for paper fasteners which were better than standard paper clips along at least one metric.

Nevertheless, the paper clip is ubiquitous, alternative paper fasteners much rarer. I think that this is so because it doesn't even occur to people to look at paper clips with a critical eye, to actively seek out other options.

When one considers the quality, speed, efficiency, freedom, and cost of many Microsoft offerings -- particularly in the desktop market, and especially as compared to what's available in the free software world nowadays -- the correspondence is fairly clear. (Of course, the analogy shouldn't be taken too far. There are many dynamics at work in the software business that are not present in the office-supply business.)

Personal stuff -- I'm looking forward to the Gilroy Garlic Festival this weekend, but I'm told to expect lots and lots of traffic; that I should take alternate routes where possible instead of taking the trickling parking lot that California 101 will become.

Caltrain doesn't ordinarily run trains to Gilroy on the weekends, and they didn't make an exception for this weekend, which just mystifies me. Okay, there is a single train going down and back from San Francisco once on Saturday and once on Sunday that's more of a charity engine than anything else, but that's not mass transit.

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