Saturday, July 31, 2004

Software That Lasts 200 Years

The structure and culture of a typical prepackaged software company is not attuned to the long-term needs of society for software that is part of its infrastructure. This essay discusses the ecosystem needed for development that better meets those needs.

I have not heard of a software development environment being called an ecosystem before, however it is an interesting concept. Shallow ponds could be considered small software companies, with each company having it's own lilypads of silo'ed groups working on ideas. Every once and awhile someone would hop from lilypad to lilypad, trying different roles & working with other people in the company. Sometimes they would miss a leap and fall in the water, other times they would make the separate lilypad's grow, until there is no water left to fall into.

The shallow pond concept could relate to many things. If you are a corner variety store you are in a shallow pond. If you are a Wal-Mart you are an ocean, or a Northern Snakehead invading all ponds, depending on your perspective..

The knowledge, with the weekend catch, that there is more than one fish in the Crofton pond is what is keeping biologists awake at night.

"Our biggest fear is that there are more than one and they'll reproduce," said Lunsford.

Sounds like a line straight out of Aliens. "She'll breed. You'll die."

A second fear, based on the fish's ability to breathe out of water and travel across land, is that the snakehead could leave the pond and travel the 75 feet (23 meters) or so to the Little Patuxent River, and from there invade the state's river system.

I always got a kick out of that image; this big ugly snakehead fish chasing stray dogs and cats around our neighbourhoods before jumping back in the local river.

Not sure what I'm getting at here but the essay is a good read if you are interested in that kind of stuff. Some of the highlights:

We need to start thinking about software in a way more like how we think about building bridges, dams, and sewers.

The problem with this concept is that only government should then be building software, since it will cost so bloody much.

The most successful prepackaged software applications have been those that may be inexpensively customized to meet the needs of users by developers with less and less computer skills, most desirably by the users themselves, or that form a base on which other prepackaged or custom software are built.

Simplicity is key. If somebody doesn't understand something or has to make an effort to understand it, they usually leave it alone until someone more curious picks it up and starts talking about it again, and then they will want it. People actually run away whenever something new and different shows up at their door. Change is dangerous in the minds of many.

The software itself may be available with no or little charge, but the organization is set up so that support of various sorts is provided by the company which has special knowledge of, and access to, the product. Again, there is a culture of obsolescence, to keep customers upgrading to new versions and paying for maintenance.

This is kind of like the story about how the Cadillac got its fins, and how the environment got laid to waste over the culture of obsolescence.

As part of this, buyers must get used to funding projects in advance. This is already the case in many areas, and the addition of cooperative funding with others can lower the costs or increase the scope of potential projects. Buyer funding lowers the requirement for potential "big hits" to incentivize development.

I like this idea the most of all. Warren Buffett's business model and many others is successfully based on the idea of gathering capital in advance, using part of the money to grow the business and then diversifying into larger growth-potential investments, not necessarily in the same industry.

A prepaid software plan sounds like a plan to me. If someone has already been paid they have the necessary capital to grow and prosper. If someone is constantly collecting payments they are getting the short end of the stick.

Warren Buffet's quote goes something like this:

"How do you tell the difference between a wealthy man and a poor man. The poor man signs the front of a cheque, the wealthy man signs the back"


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