Swiss Army Knife

The One-Tool Wonder. A universal solution to all needs; a panacea. Not really in existence, but the idiom is used pretty frequently in engineering circles.

I think universal antidote (I mean a drug that cures all illness) would be a better name. Swiss Army knives do exist and they work well (especially when compared to its size) on many areas.

"Panacea" mentioned above is, in fact, something that cures all illness. And when they said "not really in existence", obviously they didn't mean there are no Swiss Army knives, they meant there's no truly universal one, either literally or figuratively.

I carry a Swiss Army knife (a real one, from Switzerland), and it is very useful, but as said above, not truly a panacea. Often I need to actually use a toolkit, because the knife and other attachments are insufficient. That's what the paragraph above means.

Yes, but just try to get it past airport security, and if you forget to remove it, they toss it. Aside: Swiss army knifes are famous for having a plethora of tools but the actual knife used by the swiss army is much simpler in reality. It only has four things - bottle opener, can opener, knife and spike.
Often used as an idiom for a tool that does lots of things "acceptably" well (for some level of "acceptable"), though it does nothing optimally. With a real Swiss Army knife, one can trim or file one's nails, cut through things, turn and drive screws, remove a cork from a wine bottle, and open a can; though one could do each of those tasks much more easily with a separate nail clipper, knife, screwdriver, corkscrew, and can opener.

Generally, a Swiss Army knife is a good thing -- the term is complimentary. On the other hand, for a less complimentary form, see SporkAntiPattern?.
A Swiss Army knife that has lots of functions may seem great in theory but in practice it might just be too heavy and subsequently get left at home.
A Swiss Army knife is good for small jobs, but not to cut a big tree in front of your house. It can be very useful for you, because you are already familiar with it, but you must give enough tutorial to your new neighbour to use it.

First you use the knife to sharpen a herring...
It should be noted there are various kinds of SwissArmyKnife - some have forks and spoons while others have more options for screwdrivers instead, some have toothpicks, others don't. Much like HandHelds today there you might get tons of features but you have to check carefully which ones you really need. Yes it may do audio, video, BlueTooth but what if you need GPS and there are no slots? Yes it may be reasonably quick with 1xRTT but what if you have to roam outside North America? Yes it may have WiFi but what if you want your batteries to last more than 1/2 hour? Now there's an idea - combine SAK with a PDA into one so you can cut the wrapping paper with its scissors while ordering the present from on the same utensil. Perhaps SAKs were always the ultimate PersonalAnalogDevice.

As a matter of interest, at least one SwissArmyKnife manufacturer has started selling them with USB keys. -- MatthewFarwell
It's always better to be the master of one trade rather than a jack of all trades.

Unless the trade you have mastered is "making sweeping and unsubstantiated generalizations."

Is it really better? I could envision making little custom micro-controllers, for a Physics Lab, say, and wanting someone who is good at electronics, programming (both in micro-controller assembler, and in a high-level language for the interface to a normal computer), and a little bit of engineering, so that he could make sure that the motors and shafts don't get damaged by the device. Having a person for each role might be overkill for a small enough lab!
A lot of people thing Object-Oriented Programming is a SwissArmyKnife, ignoring all of the overhead and endless refactoring and RavioliCode. Then they set up the straw man of bad procedural programming as a comparison. Few have the wisdom to to explore alternatives such as

On the other hand, one person thinks relational databases are a SwissArmyKnife and sets up his own straw men of bad object-oriented programming. Luckily, most have the wisdom to ignore him.

CategoryIdiom, CategoryAntiPattern, CategoryArchitectureAntiPattern

EditText of this page (last edited September 8, 2011) or FindPage with title or text search