October 4, 2012 6 Comments
If you pay attention to the release notes that accompany every major or minor release of SmarterMail – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t – then you probably notice EFFICIENCY tags scattered amongst the FIXED, CHANGED, ADDED and REMOVED tags. This is because improving how SmarterMail performs is just as important to SmarterTools as adding new features. In fact, it could be argued that improving product performance release-over-release is even more important than adding in new features.
Often people think that the best way to improve a product is by adding in a bunch of shiny new features. However, this can lead to having a ton of new things that look nice but that don’t add any real value to the product. A smarter approach is to continually refine a product, adding in incremental improvements from version to version, with new features added in to support the refinements rather than having new features as the primary focus.
If you need an example of this approach, look no further than Apple’s recent announcement of the iPhone 5. To many people it was a disappointment because there was “nothing new” – no NFC, no wireless charging, etc. To those of us who develop products and services, we saw something different. We saw a company with a keen eye towards improving an already incredible device. Apart from the larger screen, they didn’t really focus on any new feature, they just improved what they had and focused on how they improved it. A recent article by Mat Honan in Wired, titled “The iPhone 5 is Completely Amazing and Utterly Boring”, states this perfectly:
“…Apple never just casually moves on to the next thing. It doesn’t Sony-up and release new products for the sake of releasing them. Instead, it keeps its product line focused, and meticulously refines it year after year, making everything a little bit better. Which means by four or five generations in, especially when it comes to industrial design, Apple’s products tend to hit a sweet spot, where changing them isn’t going to improve them. It might even make them worse.”
If you need an example from the software side of things, take a look at M.G. Sigler’s post about the latest version of Chrome for OS X. The big takeaway here is that “[i]t seems like Google is adding stuff to Chrome just to add it. It’s as if they feel like they can’t do nothing feature-wise, so they come up with junk to shove in there, slowing Chrome down in the process.” Again, blinky/shiny new features that provide little end user enlightenment.
So, this leads us back to the SmarterMail release notes with the EFFICIENCY tags and how we view those efficiency changes as actual product features. Looking at the last two minor releases of SmarterMail, you’ll see the following:
- EFFICIENCY: CPU and network responsiveness greatly improved by changes to performance counter logging.
- EFFICIENCY: CPU usage reduced for all protocols.
- EFFICIENCY: Improved efficiency of IMAP commands using sequence-set arguments such as FETCH and STORE.
- EFFICIENCY: Email grid generation and scrolling in webmail have been made considerably faster.
- EFFICIENCY: IMAP performance and CPU usage has been improved.
- EFFICIENCY: Improved the efficiency of retrieving unread and recent message counts for a mail folder resulting in faster webmail and IMAP performance.
- EFFICIENCY: Optimized loading of the web interface.
- EFFICIENCY: Webmail interface is now significantly faster on accounts with many folders.
You’ll notice in these notes usage of words like “optimize”, “faster”, “improved”, “reduced” and others. We do our best to not add in something that users don’t see value in. By constantly looking to improve our products, we’re guaranteed to provide value with the release, even if there’s nothing “new”, per se, added.
In terms of how these efficiency features increase the value of SmarterMail, take the case of Webio.pl. They are a hosting company in Poland that uses SmarterMail for their shared hosting customers. The image at the top of this post is a before and after snapshot of the CPU and memory usage of their server, where the dip at the beginning of September corresponds to when they upgraded to a minor version with some significant CPU usage efficiency changes. As you can see, increasing the efficiency of the product led to a huge decrease in the amount of CPU SmarterMail was using. As a large hosting company, that decrease means less strain on their servers, on their network, on their support teams and on their customers. The removal of that extra stress of customers constantly calling because their mail service is slow is a feature in and of itself for Webio.
So what do you think? Is an “efficiency” release worth the cost of upgrading and does an increase in efficiency, and therefore a decrease in issues and headaches, pay for itself with increased productivity? We’re curious to know your thoughts.