Simple Is not Simplistic

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Simplicity is a concept that lies at the very foundation of software engineering: simple software is more maintainable, has fewer bugs, has a longer lifetime, etc. The advent of Extreme Programming and agile methods has made simplicity (e.g., "do the simplest thing that could possibly work") even more fashionable.

In fact, I believe that the great majority of developers always try to implement the simplest solutions they can think of. Despite that, very often they end-up with unmaintainable code very quickly. Why is that? I think Clement Mok got the right answer to the problem:

"Very often, people confuse simple with simplistic. The nuance is lost on most."

So, what is the difference between simple and simplistic then? Let's look to the dictionary (New Oxford Dictionary Of English) for some definitions:

  • simple easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty
  • simplistic treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are

In other terms, simplistic solutions leave some important parts of the original problem unsolved. In the world of software development two typical victims of this approach (but by no means the only ones) are the users, who end up with buggy systems, and the maintainability of the code base, which gradually worsens.

[this is still work in progress]

By Giovanni Asproni

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3

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