Dave: Happy users or arcane buggy formats?

Dave’s morning coffee notes take a slightly grumpy tone this morning, as he sets up a strawman in the prickly area of data format support, and knocks it down:

I’ve heard it said that “He who is most liberal in the formats he accepts wins.” I say a couple of things in response. 1. He who says shit like that is probably getting consulting money from a BigCo. And 2. He who has the most happy users wins (and goes to heaven). Users love features, and developers who spend time supporting the most arcane buggy formats aren’t spending time on features that delight users. Formats are there to get the job done, not be pure, not be wonderful, just work, and shut up.

My counter-argument: Look at GraphicConverter. (You could make the same argument with most graphics apps, but let me run with this for a second.) The app started off, as its name indicates, as a tool to convert between graphics formats. And it supports every graphics format: old Amiga formats, JPEG 2000, microscope formats, Windows MetaFile, even graphics from Acorn computers. When it came on the market 14 years ago (!), it did one thing well: conversion of graphics files from one format to another. It’s subsequently built on that base and added neato features like magic wand selection, color correction, alpha channels, until it basically provided all the functions that Photoshop 1.0 or 2.0 had at a tiny fraction of the price. Today it’s my only graphics editor, and it’s immensely valuable. But it’s hard to argue it would have gotten where it is today without being very liberal in the formats it supports.

So what happens to a Web browser that only supports XHTML? Or a newsreader that only supports Atom?

Dave’s post is right: it’s about the users and their needs. But sometimes the users need software that is format agnostic to get the job done.