The distinction between minimalism and baroque should concern technology makers, not only the aesthete. Technologies have been around for too long, we've spent too much money on them--at home or in corporations, yet we've have come to expect so little of it unless ready to fork out premium $.
Makers of technology have always known that their lock on the customer is an elusive goal. Technology companies try several ways to hold on their customers, with various levels of success, as far as market share, and price vs. duration, are concerned. As well, commoditization makes its way through, and in the end most all technologies become "black boxes," functionally distinct units, assigned to specific tasks rather than general purpose, that are simple to operate and mask unwanted complexity; specialization is addressed in small batches only. Resisting commoditization, the point where straight feature-comparisons start driving down the price, is yet another trend companies try to avoid their technologies from following. Balancing the two imperatives, to hold on customers and resist commoditization, is a tough act to follow.
One of the ways companies hope to stay relevant for their customers is to increase switching costs. This is what happens when, for example, software companies don't publish API's so that complementary technologies cannot be developed.
Another way companies try to hold on their customers is to provide increased perceived value relative to the price. Balancing perceived value vs. price has been achieved in a couple of notable ways: a) by subsidizing the user's (access) price with revenue coming from the provider of a service, and b) by leveraging scale economies, relatively complicated technologies are offered at lower prices. Client-server technologies typify the former alternative in which, say, the browser is free but the server costs one an arm and a leg. Low perceived cost relative to the amount of features also occurs when one pays, say, under $x for a technology utilized at a much lower scale than its capacity.
It is the last type of alternative that, when technology companies adopt it, fuels what people in the industry call bloatware or, as used in the title here, baroque categories. Several of Microsoft's products and services such as MSN, Adobe Photoshop, the AOL service, are good examples of this. After a certain point in the process of feature agglutination, it becomes clear that it is not your typical customer's needs that are being addressed by such technologies and services, but the technology companies' need to stay in business--see the resistance to commoditization. A rationale behind bloatware is that you either deal with specialized customers who need rich feature sets (Photoshop,) address the largest segment of the customers who, by definition, are technology illiterates (MSN, AOL,) or simply add a lot of features to keep 'price vs. features' type of challengers away from your market (MS Office.) In fact, in most cases, companies do it to defend their market share and/or because they cannot see it any other way.
Deconstructing technology, from a customer-centered perspective, generates the following elements: infrastructure, presentation, and experience--the CHI Triad [pronounced: kee]. Well designed and implemented infrastructures should take care of aspects such as reliability, scalability, interoperability, security, ubiquity of access, scale economies, platform approach, etc. Presentation is by and large what we also call look and feel. Good presentation, usually, makes it so that one can use the technology right out of the box or very soon after installing it--i.e. ease of use. User experience should consider the quality of all relationships between user and the technology over the duration of these relationships. Network externalities, safety, pay, being able to get the job done, perception of value, effects on environment, social clustering, usefulness, etc. Good customer experience presupposes that the underlying technology resonates with the customer context. Obviously, the farther away one moves from the infrastructure portion of a technology the more are the goals achieved by UI-, marketing-, creative-types. Conversely, engineering becomes stronger as one gets closer to infrastructure.
To return to bloatware, it can occur in each on of the chi triad's elements. Moreover, according to some companies, bloatware is the only way to show their worth. And, lacking alternatives, the frustrated customers march along. This course had seemed without alternatives, at least until Apple and Google launched their products and services. Minimalist approaches to technology, not exclusively in the presentation and experience areas, have brought customers products and service a renewed sense of hope for technology as a means to customer satisfaction. Minimalism should not be restrained to presentation and experience alone since Google and Amazon are powered by a myriad of Linux servers. An example of a successful product where minimalism rules over its user experience and presentation is Picasa, Google's image handling application. For most people, this is all one needs in a world with ever proliferating images of all types and standards: few simple options, plenty of affordances, enough built in interoperability with other complementary applications, ready to be used, and the list can go on. Apparently, Picasa is missing one feature alone: a free standing business case by which its thirtysome-dollar price is explicitly made up elsewhere in the Google's ecosystem. Unless Google decided to stay minimalist all the way!
A word of caution is necessary. Minimalism cannot be imposed as the new orthodoxy but rather as guiding principle, along each direction of the CHI Triad. When business considerations ask for a deviation from minimalism, striking a balance between minimalist and baroque approaches is required as good business practice. On a whole different level, minimalism also requires that a synthesis of users' representations be possible. Such synthesis becomes possible when a good set of the users' shared experiences accumulates.
For those asking : 'When StarOffice offers for free a great deal of MS Office's functionality, why is it that people still don't switch?' I have to confess that I don't have an answer. Maybe it has to do with some bio-evolutionary mechanism that also leads us into driving big trucks from home to the soccer field, only 10 minutes away. Psychologists, please help!
Takeaways: Minimalism vs Baroque Categories, Affordances, CHI Triad, Network Externalities, Scale Economies, Interoperability, Scalability.
Nota Bene: The CHI Triad is a tool developed and used by the author.