When Written: June 2013
I’m worried, and it’s not just me, several colleagues have also admitted to being concerned also. What is bothering us? It’s the possible demised of application development.
I am talking about the end of the driving force that has in the past ensured the rapid evolution of applications that we have been used to and the possible stagnation of the market dominate products. Let me explain.
Software companies in the past have relied on producing better and better versions of their products with more features in the hope to encourage their customers to upgrade, if that failed then a change of the output file the product produced ( yes you know who you are! ) would often work to force users to upgrade. However it has been obvious for some time that gargantuan products like Microsoft Word or Adobe’s Photoshop are full of features that may never be used by many customers and a lot of their users are happy with the existing capabilities and see little point in upgrading. I believe it is fair to say that the last few upgrades to such products have been to make existing features easier to use rather than to add new features. Software companies have to keep producing these upgrades to tempt us to spend our hard earned cash so that their revenue stream continues. That is until now: The Cloud and its almost fanatical acceptance by the industry has made it possible for these software companies to offer an ‘improved’ service to their users. They are giving us either a fully on-line offering, like Office 365 or a system that uses installed software which checks back to the ‘Cloud’ to see if the monthly subscription fee has been paid like Adobe’s CS 6.5. The advantage of these types of software packages is that the software company gets a monthly fee from their customers, safe in the knowledge that should they stop paying then they will no longer be able to use the software.
Gone now is the incentive to keep producing major upgrades to their product in order to entice their users to upgrade and thus ensure the revenue stream. Of course the software house will still have to make sure that their products meet the market needs and that a competitor does not produce a better product in the meantime. But is there really a competitor to Photoshop for the professional? OR for that matter to Microsoft Office for Enterprise sized companies?
The argument from these companies is that they are offering a more cost effective alternative to the traditional upgrade path, which can indeed be the case if you or your company always buys the latest version of the software as soon as it is released. However the issue here is that we are heading towards there being no alternative to the Cloud offering. Once your Adobe subscription ceases, the software will stop working on your machine, regardless of the fact that you have probably paid more in total monthly fees that you may have paid for your single copy.
Another issue with such auto-updating Cloud offerings is that the software company could change or remove features that might cause you problems. Just look at Apple’s Final Cut ‘upgrade’. If this had been a Cloud offering with no chance for the user to have the older version installed on their computer just imagine the chaos it would cause the professional users. It is worrying that software that you have invested time in learning can be cancelled or changed without you having any say in the matter. It may be a time when you should not throw away those DVDs of the last non-Cloud version of your favourite software!
The lack of a real need to upgrade is a problem; you can still edit images with a five year old copy of Photoshop. Modern web sites can be built with similar aged copies of Dreamweaver and as for writing documents then older versions of Word are definitely up to the job. This is the reason that is causing software houses to search for other sources of revenue. The boom in software development is over; how many more ways do you need to achieve the same task? Once you have a tool that works for you and you have learnt how to get the best out of it, then why upgrade? How many ways do you need to keep notes, access your social sites and convert your mobile phone into a torch? Well apart from the last one, there are of course always areas of improvement and users who might like your take on solving a particular problem so don’t give up writing those apps but let’s have some more imagination, it has been sometime since I have added an app to my iPad that didn’t get deleted after a short while. It is this almost saturation of the market that is causing the big boys some grief and they are seeing the provision of subscription based services via the Cloud as the way forward. I suspect that as the future is with youngsters coming up through the schools, they will be neither able nor willing to pay such subscriptions and so will seek and find very good substitutes amongst the Open Source offerings.
There are exceptions of course and there are certain types of software that benefit from a constant upgrade cycle, a lot of the development tools fall into this category. This type of software helps you to build applications with the latest frameworks and have syntax prompting. As these areas are constantly changing, so tools like Visual Studio require updating, so the users not only have to upgrade to the latest version, but will also need to have available older versions to be able to maintain the legacy applications that they had written.
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton