Monday, October 09, 2006

Minimalism vs Fullfeaturism

Looking back at the life-admin decisions I've been pondering over the last few weeks, a definite pattern is emerging.

  • Personal website CMS: minimalist (PyBlosxom) or feature-rich (Drupal)?
  • PDA: minimalist (Hipster) or feature-rich (Treo)?
  • Room: minimalist (bed, desk, desktop, one drawer of clothes) or feature-rich (two desks! toys! posters! wires and docking stations oh my!)
  • Transportation: minimalist (scrappy old bike) or feature-rich (car! GPS!)
  • Task manager: minimalist (todo.txt) of feature-rich (Hiveminder)?
For the record, my choices so far have been Drupal (in progress), Hipster (due to lack of funds), and todo.txt, with the room migrating towards minimalist and the transportation being a workhorse Camry (no GPS) and a reasonably cheap road bike that I'm still looking for. So that's
2 full-featured, 1 minimalist, and 2 becoming minimalist.

I'm finding that for me, elegant minimalism is usually the way to go. It's one of the reasons I appreciate a subset of the traditional Japanese design aesthetic; spartan, but beautifully and refinedly so. (Not sure what the proper term is - Zen aesthetic?)

There are some exceptions, but they're usually in the domains I don't know enough about yet; for instance, I use Drupal because I don't know how to set up my own CMS system, nor do I have the time to do it now (and I could hack for years and not replicate its feature set). Also, minimalist doesn't mean inflexible. For instance, the simplicity of the todo.txt system is what makes it so malleable and rich.

Fullfeaturism is awfully appealing, and is minimalist in its own way. Why put your trouble into something you can pay someone else to set up (or download for free)? Sometimes the trouble is actually more than the satisfaction of doing it yourself is worth. Sometimes you really should go with the preloaded solution.

Bottom line is that you need to get tools that will get out of your way, and ones that will expand your range of action, not constrain it to some artificial subset of what's possible. Whatever works for you. Whatever that means.

Will this tool contribute positively to my productivity and quality of life, or detract from it (or add nothing, or too little to make up to what I'm giving up for it)? It's the same principle behind hiring. You don't make your team bigger for the sake of making it bigger. You hire the folks that will boost your company's productivity past the current per-capita mark; for instance, if the new coder you're bringing in will make the team 20% bigger (5 programmers, hiring a 6th), they'd better make the team more than 20% more productive. That way, the power of exponential growth kicks in.

Actually, I should look at the tools I purchase as employees I'm hiring.
And maybe I should go to sleep so I can write coherent things in the morning.

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