Software isn’t Dead

I was reading with a critical eye this article by The Register hack Matt Asay. It’s titled “Microsoft’s Surface proves software is dead” and right away we have a terrible misnomer.

Software isn’t dead, it didn’t die, it’s still critically important in driving machines with incredibly complex rules. True death would be machines without any software in them. The headline is thus an attention grabbing lie worthy of a tabloid. Now to the content about Microsoft’s business plans with software…

Software’s complexity over the past 20 years has completely failed to keep up with the very rapid improvements to hardware. We’re still using tools which are not that much different. Part of the problems with the inefficient development of tools has been proprietary software.

Each proprietary platform, every library and game that doesn’t publish it’s code fails in it’s auxiliary mission to become a part of the computer science of the future and thus the software of the future. Sure, the program will be useful, the game fun to play; but next gen software will be harder to make, easier to get wrong and far more expensive without a stable base. This isn’t in the article.

What Matt is trying badly to communicate is how much in a hole Microsoft are. But he’s wrong about why. Business has _always_ been about delivery of labour, those embodied in products or that which is directly delivered in services. What Microsoft’s business has been and what they have been trying to spread as the best method of software creation, is nothing short of money for nothing. Create a bit of software and keep on reselling the same $0 value at enterprise rates.

Monopoly is the only way to sustain this kind of economic magic trick but it does come with a cost. Microsoft are now stuck trying to both invest into bigger and bigger software cathedrals and retain their monopoly by keeping everything out of the scientific commons (open source ecosystem).

Matt’s point is that software delivered directly onto devices, proprietary or not, are what’s really economically drivable. But even the xbox will suffer from fatigue unless it’s software can be open sourced. Same goes for Apple’s iOS; oh sure it may seem like they can defy gravity, but a quick look into how much open source their platforms use gives us all the data we need to see that they’ve simply built upon the open source science to get a higher competency than Microsoft. they’ve not truly invested in open source and they’ll be on the back foot when the next level of complexity is required.

Apple’s and Microsoft’s software will completely fail to make it into the next generation, their next products will either be rehashed old code or they’ll scrap everything and start again, using new open source as the base and trying to build yet another pointless cathedral on top of it. Repeat and regurgitate until the magic dies and people learn how the trick was done and paying for software finally becomes what it always was: Paying for programmer’s time and nothing more.

Is software dead? I don’t think so, I think it’s just become Common.

Thoughts? Disagree? Post below.

17 thoughts on “Software isn’t Dead

  1. Perhaps a hack at The Register but also the former COO of Canonical…

  2. While all of this is perfectly well and dandy, it does nothing to diminish the fact that there is a huge amount of profit that Apple, then Google, and now Microsoft are working on making in very similar business models.

    In all of these cases its money made selling false promises and sub-par software. But none of the crappiness of these platforms makes then not profitable.

  3. Steam and some professional apps are coming to Linux, so if something is going to be dead it’s micro$oft. 🙂 Some morons were saying PCs (not windows defined by apple’s stupid propaganda, but Personal Computers) are going to be dead too, but it seems PCs are growing stronger and stronger. The same about software. I want to have it on my hard drive, do what I want with it and run any time I want.

  4. Your “this article by The Register hack Matt Asay” link goes to “Facebook loses face: Faced down in faceoff over face-placing” by Kelly Fiveash. ??

    The accelerating evolution of open-source development tools has been incredible to watch. Gerrit, jsFiddle, etc. iterate so quickly. And the shortest path to delivery is the web, so most of these tools are web-based, so the fastest evolving software platform will be the browser. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Ubuntu will promote their app stores as a way to make money, but device-independent web sites and apps will be the most “alive” software.

    > that doesn’t publish it’s code fails in it’s auxiliary mission
    > unless it’s software can be open
    These are not a contraction of “it is” or “it has”, so no apostrophe. “Its” is already the possessive adjective, you don’t write “I like hi’s code”

  5. I’m always amused when someone who could never dream of being paid to write professionally calls someone like Matt Asay a hack. It’s like finding some one who couldn’t make it past the first round of cuts in high school football turn around and make a Youtube video trying to critique NFL receivers on how they can’t catch.

    As for Matt Asay, if he is wrong, name one organization organized in the last 20 years, that no competes with the “big boys” being primarily a software provider and not a software+hardware (Apple) or services around software provider (Google)?

    The real issue isn’t Microsoft, the real issue is Asay is right: software alone is a dead business and unless you couple it with hardware or services you will never plat with the big boys.

  6. John Penrod: and in your question can be found the broken premiss. If corporation making was the point to the world, I’m sure we could find more entertaining ways of doing it. Maybe awarding them for pie eating contests.

    No, the point is that while software has become more and more important, it has a requirement that it becomes more aggregate. The biggest pure software project in the world is run by a collection of hardware manufacturers and that’s not any indication that it’s dead in terms of importance to customers. It’s just not a big money making scheme any more.

    So if Matt and your good self means: “Software as an extortionate product off of a shelf is dead” then sure, we agree.

  7. Unless “open source” becomes a really necessary part of business processes, it will not matter as much as “value”.

    MS and Apple, and Google, and Canonical all bring value. This value costs money, and customers are ready to pay for it. That what makes this model work.

    The subjective opinion “MS’s value is shit!” is just that, subjective. If it was true, noone would pay for it. Considering $B in profit, I’d say the model still works.

    I’m all for the “open source” as the best model for developing software, but as long as people don’t care that much (and many of them really don’t), other models will work too.

  8. Martin: that depends on a vendor. MS provides operating systems, systems management software, office software, gaming platform and few other things. Apple provides amazingly looking computer systems, tablet devices and phones. Google provides the best search engine.

    Each provider sells “something”, that “something” is “value” that customers are willing to pay for. Most people playing XBOX do no care how it is produced – they care for it to be the best game console they can get; that is “value” for them. If the value provided by another party is better (cheaper, more beautiful, less error prone, etc – the criteria is personal here), they would go and get that other product.

  9. Alex – Your perspective is from the singular consumer, which if fine. But the arguments here are about science (progress of) and economics (theory of).

    The true value in any product is not how much the buyer is willing to pay, but how much the production can sustainably sold at. Anything over that is due to friction in the system, monopolies being the ultimate friction, but other things such as location, availability, first to market and psychological pricing are factored in and cause elevated (or unnatural) pricing.

    The XBox can both provide immediate value to gamers and at the same time, be a complete technological dead end (software wise). The views of the consumers have absolutely no baring on the mechanics of scientific progress and the general models that have been proven for hundreds of years to yield leaps in complexity and understanding.

    As a consumer, your only concern is to the value. Which is fine. As a programmer or investor in the future, it would be foolish not to consider the forces that the product line operates in. You may be trying to say that open source is inconsequential (many people try to say just such a thing) but the evidence thus far on software production and the past evidence in other fields indicated that open source is far more than merely some passing fad or niche concept which is cute. I see free and open source as fundamental to software production.

  10. Martin

    Now I understand your point. I definitely agree to the fact that “free and open source is fundamental to software production”, just as academics and research institutions are fundamental to advancement of science.

    So to think of a programmer building software with open source is like thinking of a mechanical engineer using discoveries in physics, electricity, optics and math to build a physical device. Each one bases his/her work on open work of others.

    But just as economics of selling physical devices advances science for all, I guess economics of selling “software value” should advance open source software as well.

    And it does.

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