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Complexity Kills

Don Ferguson, the “father” of IBM WebSphere was recently interviewed by the BBC:

What’s the biggest technology mistake you ever made – either at work or in your own life?
When I was at IBM, I started a product called Websphere [which helps companies to operate and integrate business applications across multiple computing platforms]. Because I had come from working on big mission-critical systems, I thought it needs to be scalable, reliable, have a single point of control

I tried to build something like a mainframe, a system that was capable of doing anything, that would be able to do what might be needed in five years. I call it the endgame fallacy. It was too complex for people to master. I overdesigned it. Because we were IBM, we survived it, but if we’d been a start-up, we’d have gone to the wall.

Too complex and overdesigned. Check. Since I worked with WebSphere during the days of IBM Workplace, I didn’t need Don’s explanation but it’s good to finally hear confirmation that WebSphere was a mistake.

But it didn’t really end with WebSphere. IBM WebSphere Portal was built on top of WebSphere and added its own layers of complexity and overdesign. And IBM Workplace was built on top of WebSphere Portal. Adding yet more layers to this house of cards.

In some respects, the worst thing that could have happened would have been for IBM Workplace to have been successful. The project was doomed from the start; built on faulty foundation.

Posted in Programming, Work.

2 Responses

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  1. Michael says

    Hmm, in retrospect everyone knew it. As IBM wasn’t and isn’t insightful with Domino Workplace was an inspiration and chance at that time. Doomed, well ok but was it market, IBM wring time – I’ m not sure wether technology was the Main issue…

  2. grumpy says

    overdesigned? certainly underengineered. first few releases simply didn’t work, and wasn’t *tehnichally* competitive (ie, outside of locked-in blue accounts) until 2005.

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