When black and white makes grey
I love technology. I’ve loved it since I was around twelve years old when I first read about the then revolutionary IBM PC, the ill-fated Apple Lisa and the groundbreaking Apple Mac in magazines like Personal Computer World.
Twenty-one years ago this month I got a job selling bookkeeping software that shipped on 5.25” floppy disks to small businesses. I was successful not because I was an accountant (I’m still not) but because my natural love and passion for technology – yes, even bookkeeping technology – was occasionally effective in persuading small business owners to acquire this same passion about bookkeeping software and to get out their chequebooks.
But for the mere fact that it was customary to be paid for doing such a job, and that I had a landlord who didn’t quite share my passions, frankly I would have done it for free.
My passion for technology and its transformational abilities are what led me to join Xero last summer, but it’s also the source of teeth-gnashing frustration when I read about the collective confusion surrounding the future direction of software, the cloud and online apps.That there is such a persistent aura of confusion is curiously ironic given the very foundations of computing are binary; something’s either on or off, a one or a zero. But large portions of the computing industry seem so able recently to be fluently ambiguous about the future direction of software.
Every week or so another opinion piece or article is penned or a remark is made about whether online software represents the death knell for classic hard disk based software, or whether it’s just a cutesy phase that will soon fade. The resulting monumental mess of understanding is something that’s often characterised as a debate, but for me this unfairly legitimizes what is fundamentally just commercial propaganda much of the time.
I usually prefer to take the high road and let our success do the talking, but after speaking with someone today who was just totally bewildered after having spoken with a classic software vendor about pseudo-hybrid-virtualized-models and rinky-dink cloud versions of CD based software apps, I could no longer contain myself and I decided that it’s time for some inconvenient truths about the future of the software business.
- I’m paid to tell you that the future of business software is online but I also hold it to be a fundamental personal belief.
- I’d wager that nowhere in the developed world has a software company been formed to develop and bring to market a new CD based business app in the last three to five years. Most likely longer. I’ll do something humiliating for charity if I’m wrong about that.
- Conferences, websites, publications and books are not springing up from every direction about the limitless future opportunities for developing and launching revolutionary new apps that ship on CD and which you copy to your hard disk in order to use them.
- The opposite is true for online, web, Software-as-a-Service, cloud development world. You can’t move for tripping over another new cloud based start-up today.
- When software executives talk apparently with conviction and authority (they’re technology experts, right?) about hybrid models, the ‘best of both worlds’ or cloud apps being a trivial ‘souped-up’ way of describing good old fashioned software that’s only different because it’s accessed over the internet instead from your hard disk, then in my view they cease to hold the right to call themselves software executives. They’re just executives.
- Many software businesses followed Microsoft’s lead in this regard by mimicking Microsoft’s Software plus Services strategy-cum-mantra when it first emerged around seven or so years ago. Software plus Services was really Microsoft’s best-of-both-worlds way of saying, ‘Look, we totally get that the web is the future of software but – between you and me – we’re kinda still working on it so please keep buying our old apps with a dash of web on the side and we’ll let you know when you (well, really, we) are good and ready for the real deal.’
- In a high profile speech last month on the future of its products, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer quite notably never once uttered the phrase Software-plus-Services but instead chose to redefine Microsoft’s new and total commitment to the cloud computing as being ‘all in’. Microsoft will ship a new version of Office this summer complete with cloud versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint. Join the dots.
Customers look to our industry for guidance, help and for people in which they can place their trust. And so it really gets my goat when some of the so-called technology advocacy coming out of established software businesses deliberately compromises that relationship in favour of protecting their own businesses ahead of those of their customers.
I feel better now.
14 April 2010 #