Software is at the heart of the enterprise. So far, it has been quite
simple: the software companies have been selling shrink-wrapped
software. This is about to change. Software is becoming a
service. What this means is that both applications and data will
reside on the Internet (in the “cloud”) – software as a “web service”.
Business applications like MS-Office have so far been on the desktop
(the client). In contrast, applications like MS-Exchange and file
servers store data on the server. Enterprise applications like SAP and
PeopleSoft run off servers and also store data there. In recent years,
applications like Hotmail have moved data (in this case, mail) to
servers also. The next logical step in this progression now is to move
the applications and data onto the network.
Ludwig Siegele, writing in the Economist, gives a glimpse of this
Imagine, says IBM’s Stuart Feldman, that you are running on empty and
want to know the cheapest open petrol station within a mile. You speak
into your cellphone, and seconds later you get the answer on the
display. This sounds simple, but it requires a combination of a
multitude of electronic services, including a voice-recognition and
natural-language service to figure out what you want, a location
service to find the open petrol stations near you and a
comparison-shopping service to pick the cheapest one.
But the biggest impact of these new web services, explains Mr Feldman,
will be on business. Picture yourself as the product manager of a new
hand-held computer whose design team has just sent him the electronic
blueprint for the device. You go to your personalised web portal and
order the components, book manufacturing capacity and arrange for
distribution. With the click of a mouse, you create an instant supply
chain that, once the job is done, will dissolve again.
This shift to Web services is what the future of software is
about. Says John Robb of Userland Software:
The move to Web services implies the need for desktop service
aggregators. Demand for client software (that acts like a peer) that
can aggregate Web services on the desktop is going to be huge.
We will have hundreds of thousands of services available in the next
several years. These services will do all sorts of things: calculate
P/E ratios, find album playlists, or conduct credit card transactions.
You can either access a suite of services from one supplier or you can
mix and match services to produce a new application. You also have
the option of either building a Website to deliver the functionality
through a remote browser or by building client software that delivers
the functionality from the desktop.
I think the trend is towards delivering these services from the
desktop. Why? It is less expensive (centralized server architectures
killed most .coms), it is much faster (which means better personal
productivity), and it empowers end users (if there ever has been a
trend in technology this is it). It is the equivalent of
client/server for the Web.