Thursday, December 23, 2004

Web-Based Software or Customer-Built Software?

Adam Bosworth writes some interesting thoughts about the difference betwen waiting around for the IT guy to write your software for you, versus using some kind of existing general-purpose environment and building your own, or at least customizing them:
...the problem IT faces isn't sloppy languages. It is irrelevance. For much (although certainly not all) of the work IT does, IT is like children building sand castles on the beach and watching the tide roll in. That tide is highly customizable web based solutions, today, perhaps Talaris tomorrow. Ask the average customer (meaning a salesrep) if he is happier with the solution he has now or the one he had back when IT was building a customer CRM for him.
Maybe I'm missing the thrust of this, but I think what he's saying is that lightweight solutions like win out over custom-built solutions by IT departments because they already exist and are flexible enough to be adapted to the individual's needs.

Over the past couple of decades of building and using software I've seen a lot of things go by, including scripting languages, Visual Basic, and many, many, many attempts to empower "regular people" to program things up for themselves, the way they like it. The best so far has to be HyperCard, from Apple Computer. It's dead now, though my brother Harvey doesn't think so. The scripting language is intuitive, forgiving, and like English. But it's still incredibly hard to get "what you want".

The problem is that customization isn't particularl easy, and most people don't bother. People don't pick Preferences or Settings from the menu. They don't change the garish blue menu bars of Windows XP (okay, they do all set background wallpaper images). Which means that people are still using programmer-built tools as the programmer intended, and the fact that a few of them are more flexible than others doesn't argue pro or con web-based software.

Consider FileMaker or DBase, totally flexible, open-ended databases. Do whatever you want. They have not taken over the world. More point-specific databases are what people actually want. is tailored to a specific problem, has contact information and tracking as its focus. Would you really want to build that yourself with an open-ended database construction kit? Not me.

So I guess I don't see a trend here at all; it's just evolution. It's the usual flurry of exploratory software, new ideas, attempts to find the Holy Grail. Maybe a better analogy is a sports analogy, though I try to avoid them. Each new bit of software, web-based or not, is like a play in a football game. The play is sketched out on a whiteboard before the game (the business plan), it's taught to the players, then it's called on the field. Some plays move the ball forward, some do not. It's not inherently the play itself, but the execution of it, and the quality of the defense (competition) and the weather (business climate, evolution of technology, etc) that decide whether or not your pass is completed for a touchdown, or intercepted (large competitor) and used against you.

1 comment:

manu said...

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