Sunday, June 28, 2009

Software is dead. Long live software

The demise of software, a marketing tactic launched by software companies (hence the irony) doesn’t change the fact that everything around us is powered by it. It’s in consumer products, notebooks, coffee machines, toys, it helps run business operations in major companies, etc. Consumer software, business software, embedded software, you name it. It’s everywhere.

In the past ten years, software companies had to evolve and adapt to conditions that even they didn’t foresee. The increasing number of programmers around the world and the democratisation of software tools and production, coupled with the ‘save the world from ourselves’ attitude of this new generation, has lead to the apparition of free and cheap software. This change is seen today as a precondition to the development of the third world as to many companies in the first and second.

This wasn’t part of the plan. Software was supposed to be a high-margin business.

You can’t call software cheap yet, especially in business-to-business but it has certainly come down. If you add the huge discounts such companies give to buy markets or meet prospects budget limitations, then we’ve entered a new era that might lead to the commoditisation of software. No one wants to go there however. Software is intellectual property at its best. Companies employ the best and the brightest to create, market and sell it at the highest premium the customer can afford. In balance, customers are doing the same to ensure they’re not taken for a ride. If you want to see market forces at work, enter a room where software pricing is being negotiated.

Software is further evolving. Not due to business planning but because our interaction with it has changed dramatically. We have to thank the gaming community for that.

Software so far has been very two-dimensional. Colours of course have made it easier to use than thirty years ago when green screens were the rage. We can shift screens and hyperlink to other part of the network and the world in a heartbeat yet that screen is still very linear and limited in space. This forces programmers to cramp a lot of data in a single and often small screen space.

Today’s new generation X and Y are used to higher level of interactivity, multi-dimensional access and a 3D environment they epxerience while playing games. Those expectations have started to transpire in our day-to-day software but are still far from being completely merged. Though the day you’ll interact with your word processor in the same way as you interact with a game will soon be upon us. Or not.

This is the beauty of the software industry. It’s constantly changing and trends and expectations, especially historical one, mean very little. You simply can’t project software into the future based on its past. It’s entirely depends on human ingenuity. An infinite force if there is one.
Today, there are signs of things to come.

In the consumer world, we see embedded software in items that have a single purpose as well as the notebook or PDA, that more and more people carry around. The former is hard coded in the machine you’re using whether to build something or simply programme cooking time. The latter still allows you to add and delete software at will depending on your current needs. Your needs change, your software change. You could also say that the software you use helps define your personality. Or is it the other way around? Am sure psychologists will figure that one out.

Software is a beautiful thing. There is beauty in its creation and beauty in its utilisation. It helps define a more homogenous society by keeping it moving (think traffic lights) while allowing it to be at its most creative. Such forces can of course both for good or evil but software is not dead. It’s just beginning.