So what is the future of software?

Thoughts about Web 2.0


Talk about Web 2.0 and the concept of software as service has been alive for nearly a decade but this year it seems we may see it blossom from its idealistic theories and more ugly practice. Not having to ship your software in a shrink wrapped box has obvious advantages, and updates that can be pushed to your customers that fix bugs and improve service should make for better software. Hey, need good resources to accompany your documentation, or to direct users to tools that work with your application, no problem, you can integrate third party content and services beneath your application chrome into brilliant mash-up. Completely user focused software design should become king.However what other changes would we see? I find myself with more questions then answers.We would expect software to become cheaper, and in some cases even free for use; funded through integrated advertising.We would expect software to become more stable and easier to use given it can be updated at any time.We would expect software to become more powerful because the expertise of different industries could be combined in ways not conceived of in the original application design.We would expect software to evolve much faster then current cycles.But what challenges will that bring to the table for developers and software designers and producers? Consider using advertising to make software free. How can the need to generate revenue be balanced with a user experience that is not to distracting? Well sponsors have influence on the software use as the do the entertainment media we view?Will the quality of software and expectations change because updates can be more frequent? Consider a lot of the free online applications we already use that are seemingly in perpetual beta. The ability accurately to track the use of each individual feature and how many advertising dollars a specific feature may be able to bring in, may have more impact on what bugs are considered critical then the nature of the problem.How about those mash-ups? What type of impact will third parties or individual users have on the distribution of content and services? Having to coordinate updates with several other companies would be a challenge. Having to test all the pieces work well together would be an even bigger challenge.Then there is your user community. The ability to target a specialized user in a niche market becomes far more viable given the ability to reach your users and cut down your production costs. But does it also make it easier to identify new markets, and adapt your software to a different audience? In theory it does; it’s just business logic right? Perhaps, but then there may be less user “community” when competition from other free or low cost software services allow a user to be less committed to a particular brand.What about operating systems? I have heard the idea that cross platform Web 2.0 applications could render the need to continuously upgrade your operating system obsolete. Freeing users from the proprietary differences of what software they can use because of it’s availability on their OS is an appealing thought but don’t write of OS vendors just yet. It’s not hard to imagine OS upgrades to come chocked full of an impressive range of Web 2.0 apps to fulfill every category of application need you may ever dream of having and promptly direct you to their solutions as your individual need is detected. Something not unlike the web browser wars when the internet was young is not impossibility. Nor is the idea of your application suites being bundled into the cost of your Internet access along with your phone and cable TV.So is this the new age for the small software company, the best thing for users since the PC, more control for the big software companies or something else?It’s hard to tell, and it is hard to say who will decide in the end.So far it has not been quite the untamed western front on the internet I imagined in say 2003. But then again, maybe the new frontiers just are not quite so wild any more.Is your company building or are you working out this new paradigm shift? What do you think?