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Opinion: Rethinking software

By Julio Franco · 7 replies
Dec 5, 2017
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  1. Virtually everyone who closely watches the tech industry has heard venture capitalist Marc Andreesen’s famous quote about “software eating the world.” The implication, of course, is that software plays the most important role in tech and the capabilities of software are the only ones that really matter. In addition, there’s the further suggestion that the only way to really make money in tech is with software.

    While I won’t disagree with the underlying principles, I am starting to wonder if what we’ve traditionally thought of as software will really continue to exist several years into the future. It’s not that there won’t be code running on hardware devices of all types, but the way it’s packaged, sold, discussed, and even developed is on the cusp of some radical transformations.

    In fact, there have already been substantial changes to the traditional types of software that were so dominant in the tech industry for decades: operating systems and applications.

    Operating systems (OS’s) used to be considered kings of the software hill. Not only did they sit at the heart of client devices, servers and virtually every intelligent device ever created, they also enabled the all-powerful ecosystems. It was their structure, rules, APIs and other tools that enabled 3rd party companies to create applications, utilities, add-ons, and other software pieces that turned OS’s into platforms.

    While those structures remain in place, the world around us has evolved to include multiple important OS options. In addition, though there are certainly important differences between OS choices across different types of devices, most application vendors have had to focus on the commonality across platforms, rather than those unique differences, leading to applications that run across multiple platforms. For this, and many other reasons, platforms and specific operating systems have lost much of their value. Yes, they still serve an important purpose, but they are no longer the sole arbiters of what kinds of applications can be built.

    Applications have also seen dramatic transformations. Gone are the days of large, monolithic applications that only run on certain platforms. They’ve been replaced by smaller “apps” that run across a variety of different platforms. From a business model perspective, we’ve gone from standalone applications costing hundreds of dollars to single digit dollar mobile apps to completely free apps that rely on services and subscriptions to make money.

    Gone are the days of large, monolithic applications that only run on certain platforms. They’ve been replaced by smaller “apps” that run across a variety of different platforms.

    Even in the world of large applications, there’s been a dramatic shift to subscription-driven pricing, with Microsoft’s Office 365 and Adobe’s Creative Cloud services being some of the most popular. Not all end users are excited about this model, but it seems clear that’s where traditional applications are heading.

    Service and subscription-driven models have also come to mobile clients, servers and other devices, as companies have realized that the continuous flow of smaller amounts of regular income provided by these models (as opposed to large lump sum purchases) offers much more stable revenues.

    Even the structure of software has changed, with large applications being broken down into smaller chunks that can act independently, but work together to provide the functionality of a full application. This notion of containers (or chunks of code that function as independent software objects) is particularly prevalent among cloud-based applications, but it’s not hard to imagine it being applied to device-based applications as well. In addition to their other benefits, containers bring with them platform and physical location independence and portability, two key attributes that will be essential for new types of computing architectures—such as edge computing—which are widely expected to dramatically influence many future tech developments.

    Another benefit of containers is reusability, meaning they could be leveraged across multiple applications. While this is certainly interesting, is does start to raise questions around complexity and monetization for containers, that don’t yet have easy answers.

    There are even growing questions about what really constitutes software as we know it. Technically, building voice-based “skills” for an Amazon Echo-based product is software design, but the manner with which people interact with skills is much different than how they’ve interacted with other types of software. As digital assistant models continue to evolve, the nature of how these component-like pieces are integrated into the assistant platform will also likely change. Plus, as with containers, though some new experiments have been started, there are still serious questions about how this type of code can be monetized.

    Finally, and most importantly, virtually everyone is adding in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities into their software code. Right now, much of these additions are relatively simple pattern-recognition based functions, but the future is likely to be driven by software that, in many ways, can start to rewrite itself as it learns these patterns and adjusts appropriately. This obviously marks a significant shift in the normal software development process, and it remains to be seen how companies will try to package and sell these capabilities.

    In fact, one could argue that software is being “eaten” by services.

    Taken together, the implications for all of these software-related developments are profound. In fact, one could argue that software is being “eaten” by services. That’s already occurring in several areas (think Software as a Service, or SaaS), and the future of code-based capabilities will likely all be delivered through some type of monetized service offering. While that may be appealing in some ways, there is a legitimate question about how many services any person, or any company, will be willing to sign up for. Particularly when there are costs related to these services—we need to realistically recognize that this business model can only be taken so far.

    Watching the tech industry evolve over the last several decades, it’s fascinating to see how many pendulum shifts occur across many different segments. From computing paradigms to semiconductor architectures to the role and balance between hardware, software and services, it seems that what was once old can quickly become new again. In the case of software—which used to be bundled for free with early computing hardware—we may be coming full circle, with most code soon becoming little more than a means to sell services that leverage its capabilities. It certainly won’t happen overnight, but the end of software as we know it may be sooner than we think.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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  2. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,899   +1,531

    Interesting but flawed.

    First; Containers and Objects are also created with code, typically written in the Object Oriented style. Take either of them, wrap them into a threaded process and you get the ability to run multiple copies. If your library of Containers/Objects is deployed into a cloud, you can expand on-demand world wide.

    Second; Services (SaaS) can't exist w/o software to implement them. As a "product" they differ from what you and I know as software we install ONLY in the manner in which they get deployed. Produce an API for the client to use and you can then access your Containers and Objects in the cloud.

    Contains, Objects and Services still fail due to software errors, leading to Security breaches or total access failure as has been known to occur (eg: AWS outages lasting more than just one day).
    Reehahs and JaredTheDragon like this.
  3. "the future of code-based capabilities will likely all be delivered through some type of monetized service offering."
    yup, just like loot-boxes in games, subscribe and even buy what you need in the application are here.
    I'll limit my reply to a single instance for brevity
    Adobe Acrobat Pro XI, support ended recently. No standalone purchase available anymore. I downloaded for free Adobe Acrobat DC Reader to replace it and anytime I do something that I used to be able to, I get sent to some Adobe site where I can subscribe or pay to complete the action in question. I do realize 'Pro' and 'Reader' are quite different, but there is no Pro XII to upgrade to. The options are to subscribe or use Reader and pay to unlock abilities in Reader. It's made to look like Reader has the capability, but when you click a window opens where you can 'buy'. So it looks like full fledged software, but most of the 'buttons' open a window for you to buy the ability or subscribe to Acrobat DC.
    GreenNova343 likes this.
  4. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,657   +320

    This article sounds like it comes from someone who has no idea about the history of software.
    JaredTheDragon likes this.
  5. JaredTheDragon

    JaredTheDragon TS Guru Posts: 584   +383

    "Gone are the days of large, monolithic applications that only run on certain platforms. They’ve been replaced by smaller “apps” that run across a variety of different platforms."

    Yeah, tell that to Adobe or Autodesk.
  6. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 14,976   +4,010

    When you say, "support ended", are you saying that "Acrobat Pro VI" no longer works, or that you simply wanted the later version?

    We have plenty of PDF creators in the download section:


    I'll tell you a funny story about Adobe's crap though.I instaled Photoshop Elements 13 into a new machine I built. (That program is still available as a standalone). With the activation, Adobe downloaded a whole bunch of their "Creative Cloud", bullsh!t trial offers, right smack on the desktop.

    When I ran PSE, it would launch, and I'd promptly get an, "Elements is out of memory, and must close" error. Keep in mind the machine had 8 GB of RAM installed. So, I did the "logical thing", and installed another 2 X 8 GB set, giving me a total of 24 GB.

    Well, PSE launched and ran, and its memory usage leveled off at about 20 GB. After which, I hit the recycle bin with all of Adobe's garbage left on my desktop, and memory usage fell to at most, 2GB.

    Boy, did I feel foolish, But, I suppose I should just be content to brag about the 24 gigs of RAM in the box...:D (And meanwhile pretend the the earlier episode, never happened).
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  7. Morning, captaincranky
    it seems almost everything Adobe, including pdf's have vulnerabilities. By 'end of support', my version will no longer receive security updates/patches. Since I download a lot of pdf's this leaves me concerned. It works, but the longer you use it, the more vulnerabilities it will have.
    I took the option of stopping use of it and using the free version Adobe Acrobat DC Reader. I didn't expect the functionality of a Pro version, but I am not happy with that it looks like a fully functioning version, yet when you click on something like 'Edit pdf' a box opens telling you can subscribe or pay to edit your pdf (kind of a 'you don't want to pay monthly to subscribe, but we will let you pay to do this edit).
    There are no current or future editions to be bought and used standalone anymore, only option if you want the works is to get a monthly subscription with all its Cloud features. I'm retired so don't use it for work, so the subscription isn't going to happen. Just going to miss the ability to manipulate pdf's the way I used to. So they changed their business model and lost a long time customer...thought it was supposed to work the other way LOL
  8. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 14,976   +4,010

    Well first, I think you're being a bit paranoid, and second,the majority of exploits against Adobe, are directed toward the soon to be, (hopefully), deceased, "Flash".

    I think "vulnerabilities" are greatly overstated by software publishers in the first place. How else could they generate the necessary panic in the buying public, if the bogeyman wasn't coming to steal your data, while enslaving your computer to a nefariously tasked botnet?
    Well, IMHO, computer security begins, (and nearly ends), with the browser. Firefox with script blocking, (add-on "NoScript"), is pretty much impenetrable to most attacks. Next comes your AV software, and finally (maybe) for some purposes your OS.

    With those things said, other great options are, running your current version of Acrobat inside a virtual machine. Or my most favorite, another computer, task based to feed your PDF habit. Refurbished computers aren't much more, (if any more),expensive than a new standalone copy of Acrobat anyway..

    So, you download all your PDFs to a machine dedicated to the purpose, and edit to your heart's content. In the unlikely event that you get a bad one, you just stuff that image you made of the "C:/" drive into the $15.00 DVD drive you remembered to install, and start over.

    Like I've heretofore been tactfully trying to say, "f**k Adobe. There is a simple workaround to being able to use any of their previous editions of Photoshop or Lightroom. All you need do, is keep the latest version of PSE installed. That way, you'[ll be able to import RAW files from the very latest cameras into that program. PSE runs 50 or 60 bucks on sale. It's editor is actually more powerful than the one in Lightroom. Then.....(wait for it).... you import your RAW files into PSE'[s editor, and simply "save as", TIFF.l No muss, no fuss, no belts, no pins, no pads, just completely lossless files to play with in, let's say perhaps, PSCS-2.

    Adobe's shtick, is to add another next to useless feature to their imaging programs, along with the new RAW file compatibility I spoke of earlier, then ride those picayune refinements into the sale of a completely new version of the software. For 95%+ of all users, Photoshop Elements is quite sufficient. Beside its editor is Photoshop, with a few of the more exotic features stripped out of it.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
    senketsu likes this.

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