Is software doomed to spoil over time?
No; commercial software appears doomed to spoil though. Somehow software companies go through a metamorphosis, similar to your wolly moth example. They started with nothing, and wrote new software. They wrote software because they felt an itch, or a market opening, or whatever. And they found out they could make good money doing it.
At some point, they discovered selling to existing customers was a far less scary proposition than finding new customers to sell software for that doesn’t exist. The once great entrepreneurial spirit of the company, writing new programs, has diminished in the face of finding a few reasons to sell your customers something they basically already own. If a customer is satisfied with version 5 already well into the spoilage, fixing the spoilage for a fee sounds crappy. Call it what you will, but I call it removing features for a fee. But every major release also comes with an implicit bug fixing onslaught that nobody can test until they’ve already paid or pirated. Ever seen a bullet point for “Fixed ticket #2452?” Only in changelogs that may or may not be published.
The trouble is, why would a company with software give up such a revenue stream? Releasing a new major version is almost guaranteed money, no matter how bad Vista is. Or whatever you happen to be working on. Fixing spoilage is about finding ways for a company to transition software from a state of development to a state of stable management. If I had the answer, I’d have a million dollars.
I can’t name a single closed source app I used five years ago I still use today. The situation isn’t much better on Linux. GNOME’s a bit like Windows; its hard whether I call it spoiled or just unfinished. But there’s a few notables: Firefox has been around since 2002. It’s basically the same thing from a usability standpoint. Firefox’s tools for fighting bloat grew directly from a pair of developer’s desire to remove what they saw as bloat in Mozilla’s Netscape browser.
In a sense, every product competes with itself, but with open source you can’t deliberately deny bug and security fixes to old versions. Open source isn’t immune to bloat, it just has a better pressure release valve.