Everything is dead, except Apple and the Web

Or so it would seem.

A few weeks back, Dare Obasanjo said “Open Source is Dead“. The crux of his argument:

This is why Open Source is dead, as it will cease to be relevant in a world where most consumers of software actually use services as opposed to installing and maintaining software that is “distributed” to them.

If the only valuable property of open source was as a distribution mechanism/channel, I’d be inclined to agree. But open source is a means of production not only a means of distribution and routing around lock in. And of course, his argument applies to all distributed software, not just open source software. Which would make Microsoft dead as well.

This would no doubt please Paul Graham, who earlier this month wrote that “Microsoft is dead“, repeating the idea that software delivered via the web is in the process of displacing desktop software. Although for him to be announcing this in 2007, ‘to be the first one to call it” seems somewhat late. Also he weakens the case for web vs desktop software by tossing Apple into the mix, and the last time I looked, Apple was a desktop software company.

To complete the trifecta, Jeremey Wagstaff [via Marc Orchant] clarified that ‘It’s Not the “Death” of Microsoft, it’s the “Death” of Software‘. That doesn’t seem right either, since there’s a lot of software running all those web apps that are killing off everybody else. Of the three prognosticators of doom, his comments resonate the most with me:

We somehow demand less and less from our software, so that we can declare a sort of victory. I love a lot of Web 2.0 apps but I’m not going to kid myself: They do one simple thing well — handle my tasks, say — or they are good at collaboration. They also load more quickly than their offline equivalents. But this is because, overall, they do less. When we want our software to do less quicker, they’re good. Otherwise they’re a pale imitation of more powerful, exciting applications in which we do most of our work.

But all this just proves to me that there has been little real innovation in software in the sense of making programs do more. Web 2.0 has excited us because we lowered our expectations so much. Of course web apps will get better, and one day will deliver the functionality we currently get from desktop software. They may even do more than our desktop applications one day. But isn’t it a tad strange that we think this is all a huge leap forward?

Perhaps its a Great Leap Forward

5 thoughts on “Everything is dead, except Apple and the Web

  1. Ed

    Paul Graham needs to step outside of his tech savvy circle of friends and visit an average, non-geeky family where “Internet Explorer” equals “The Internet” and “Outlook (Express)” equals “e-mail” and then decide if Microsoft is dead. I don’t think they are dead. I just think less people pay attention to what they are doing.

  2. rick

    The notion of “lowered expectations” when dealing with web apps is a key point. We could end up with two tiers of apps as a result: the low-end web-based and the “pro” version that requires a download/installation.

    You could argue that a stratification/simplification of the UI would provide a way to manage webapp complexity – but so far I’ve seen complex UI’s be pretty tricky to implement in JS and rather slow to use.

    Ed’s got a point, but I think Graham’s point was more that their business models are going to change. Office, Windows, Servers and Services make up different portions of their business. This mix will end up changing.

    PS: Ed: you’re supposed to switch them. If they’re only running Web and Mail they don’t need anything but Firefox and Thunderbird – and they run everywhere!

  3. Kimberly

    Whether you agree or not, there has been (it seems) a whole lot of talk these days about the death of Microsoft. Just the fact that people are thinking this way is a big sign of a sea change. (Shelly Palmer has written similar things about Microsoft’s current irrelevance — see “Cracked Windows” on Medias 3.0.)

    As for Open Source, I think we’re also seeing the rise of new hardware. And hardware that connects to services. That combination, currently, leaves no real room for open source.

    – Kimberly

  4. Gabe

    Kim: That hardware you speak of runs software, and those services are software. So I fail to see how this leaves no room for open source.

    As Ted said, this is where open source is truly interesting—as a collaborative means of producing and composing this software and these services, where everyone sharing helps everyone win.

  5. bowerbird

    why won’t your site reflow the text when i resize my window
    to be as narrow as i would like it? i consider this to be a bug.

    p.s. you don’t have to post this, but i had to ask it.

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