The Death of Software As We Know It

gravestoneIt’s true. Software, as we know it, is dying out. You might think I’m crazy since the software development industry is booming. I realize that we are inundated with more new applications for our computers, tablets and smartphones than we could possibly ever use – Apple alone has over a million applications available on the iTunes store that have driven 40 billion downloads as of January 2013. So how can I say software is dying?

When talking about the traditional ways consumers and businesses have purchased and used software, the landscape has completely changed and this has dramatic implications.

The Olden Days

It wasn’t that long ago that buying software meant first determining what software you needed, then going to a store or vendor to purchase the software, and finally returning to the office with a box containing a CD-ROM and instructions. You would load the software on the machine you wanted to run it on and boom, you were up and running. Many times, the licensing restricted the use of the software, so you could run it only on the machine in which it was loaded. If you had problems, you would call the vendor and they would walk you through troubleshooting, which sometimes required you to dig up that CD-ROM and reload the software.

Everything was physical and tangible; you could see it, touch it and know it was there.

Transitional Years

As the Internet grew in scope, the software industry changed. Now if you want to install software on a machine, you are most likely guided to a website with a link to download the software yourself.

For some this task can be intimidating – but when you ask the nice salesperson to give you a CD (media) instead so you can load it yourself, you’re often told, “Sorry, we don’t have CD’s anymore. You have to go to the website.”

This can be additionally frustrating if you know you have to download a giant bulk of software using a slow Internet connection. You have to literally plan this event around your family or coworkers to ensure you actually can download the software in its entirety before it “times out” or you get kicked off because others are also using your Internet service. I’ve known many businesses that run their big software downloads overnight in the hope they will finish by morning.

If you have a problem with your software after you have downloaded it, your nemesis, the evil software support technician, may inform you to download the software again from their website (remember there are no CD’s anymore). Really?! Are you kidding?! You don’t have another day to devote to downloading this behemoth again!

What happened to the good old days when you could have that beautiful, iridescent disc in your hand to load it whenever you wanted? Gone, baby, gone.

The Growth Spurt of Cloud-Based Software Solutions

Recently the software industry has spun yet again. Now we have cloud solutions, where you don’t download anything. Nada. There is nothing to load on the machine, it’s all “vaporware” up in the cloud. You are given a link to a website where you set up a user name and password; you simply log in and voila, you’re in business.

Sounds like a better deal than downloading software overnight, right? More and more software providers are moving to a cloud-only option for their software (known in techie terms as “Software as a Service” or SaaS) because they know if they don’t, their competition will and they will become obsolete. So why the big shift? Why are they all moving to the cloud? Aside from having to keep up with their competition, there are some real benefits to the software provider:

  1. Less cost than producing, shipping and maintaining physical media (CD’s, books, etc.)
  2. Easier and less costly to maintain – bug fixes and enhancements can be made one time rather than in mass production
  3. More reliability and uptime – software is contained in datacenters with built-in redundancy, scalability and performance
  4. Less cost in support – all the manuals are online, troubleshooting information is online, software is online… not as many people are needed to support the product

So what does this mean for us, the consumer and business user?  There are some real benefits, but there are also serious deficiencies.

Benefits of cloud based software:

  1. You can get to the software anytime, anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection
  2. You can work on software in the office, then leave and pick up right where you left off at home or in the hotel
  3. You can easily get upgrades and enhancements without having to wait on new downloads
  4. You don’t have to own any of the equipment required to run the software (servers, power workstations, etc.)

Deficiencies of cloud software:

  1. If you do not have connection to the Internet, you are out of business (think airplanes and in rural areas)
  2. If you have a slow Internet connection, the performance can be brutal and counter-productive (DSL or slow copper service is still prevalent just about everywhere)
  3. The support stinks! People have been replaced by blogs, links and countless hours surfing content with no option to call anyone. (This is a huge pet peeve of mine!)
  4. You may be forced to spend more money on better Internet service just to keep up and ensure your software performs satisfactorily

A Cloud-y Future

With any innovation or technology advancement comes growing pains and problems. The shift of software from CDs to downloads to the cloud has had its fair share.

But the future is clear. Software vendors will continue to migrate to the cloud and in doing so, stop providing and supporting previous forms of delivery. They must do this just to stay relevant. The days of personal delivery and white-glove service from software vendors are over.

That said, we need to continue to demand better service and support from software vendors because eventually that will be the differentiator. Those that provide great service will thrive while those that don’t will struggle. Instant-message chat-bubble conversations may work for some, but I still prefer to talk with a real person, ideally that speaks my language, who has the experience to solve my problems. It’s those businesses that most often get my business.

I don’t expect my parents to ever board the train to Cloud Software Land, but when I watch my daughter work with four applications at one time on her iPhone, iPad and Mac, all concurrently, I am reminded I’d better find a seat on the next departure. Because if I miss that train, I too will be left behind.