The torture garden of Microsoft Exchange: Grant us the serenity to accept what they cannot EOL

Rupert Goodwins, writing at The Register:

It is the monster which corrupts all it touches. It is an energy-sucking vampire that thrives on the pain it promotes. It cannot be killed, but grows afresh as each manifestation outdoes the last in awfulness and horror. It is Microsoft Exchange and its drooling minion, Outlook.

Let us start with the most numerous of its victims, the end users. Chances are, you are one. You may be numbed by lifelong exposure, your pain receptors and critical faculties burned out though years of corrosion. You might be like me, an habitual avoider whose work requirements periodically force its tentacles back in through the orifices.

I have recently started to use it through its web interface, where it doesn’t update the unread flags, hides attachments, multiplies browser instances, leaves temp files all over my download directory, tangles threads, botches searchers and so on.

If battling with monsters turns you into a monster, what does marketing them do?

Or you may be one of those poor indentured slaves, the Exchange Admin Tribe. To say it is a picky, bad-tempered master when it works is one thing, but picking up the pieces after it’s spat out its cogs is quite another. The dance of rolling back and rebuilding its baroque catacombs of messages is not the kind of exercise that leaves one feeling refreshed and eager for more.

And Microsoft, the nominal owner and controller of Exchange, is itself damaged by its creation. If battling with monsters turns you into a monster, what does marketing them do?

There’s much more in that vein. As someone who tended to a Small Business Server 2003 installation in the 2000s and early 2010s, I learnt not to poke Exchange — or SQL Server, for that matter — any more than I had to.

The common thing is the Vizzini Effect, named after the Sicilian in the Princess Bride. In the movie/book, Vizzini often describes events as “inconceivable,” to which Inigo Montoya replies “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. The Vizzini Effect in software engineering (and undoubtedly in other fields of endeavour too, I doubt we’re special) is when the same thing happens: a word or phrase seems to adopt a different meaning such that two different people, or two different groups of people, can mean it to use different things without either seeming malicious or disingenuous. In the examples I’m going to explore here, those groups are separated by time rather than space. But unlike with Vizzini, it’s not that one person is using a word in a weird way, but that collectively software engineers seem to have decided it takes a different meaning.

Graham Lee, The Vizzini Effect

Well worth a read if you’re a software developer, or even if you’re a former software developer like me.