This post was originally published on June 21, 2010.

Burger King has drilled “have it your way” into the popular imagination for good reason. People want control. And that’s not just a hamburger thing. The same goes for sex, staffing, sports, and, last but not least, software.

People want control.  And that’s not just a hamburger thing.

So it’s no surprise that software marketers have long since taken up the language of control as well, relentlessly using or abusing, as the case may be, the terms “customizable” and “configurable”, all in an effort to allay user anxiety. I’m not pointing fingers here. It’s all of us in the software industry who do it.

It used to be that these terms fit neatly into their own boxes. With configurable software, you needn’t mess with code, wouldn’t have to roll out a new version, maybe wouldn’t even need to talk to IT.  Nope. Just change a value in a table and you configured the system to work the way you need.

Customizable software on the other hand meant that you could change code. That has traditionally meant that with a little IT-fu, you could pass through a compilation-like phase and emerge with new or changed functions that adapted to your desired business process.

Today, however, software has advanced such that these distinctions have become more opaque than meaningful. I see this constantly in TempWorks (had to fit this in somewhere), which offers all that adaptability, but in ways that defy those traditional definitions.

For example, how do you classify the “Custom Data” feature which allows users to construct their own screens? You could call it configurable, but customizable would work as well. And I could sympathize with arguments that neither term is appropriate.

Either way, the terms customizable and configurable increasingly present a false dichotomy about software.

But it’s a good thing because the trend is that control is being returned to the business people. The ones doing the work get to have it their way.

Tags: Marketing, IT, Staffing Software, Technology, Software Development, Configurable, Customizable