The Organic Software Trend

No so long ago, software was designed, implemented, tested and delivered on a CD. This cycle could take anywhere between 12 months to 36 months. Some companies like Microsoft make the bulk of their money from Window and Office, products which still follow this model. I think that this cycle is the biggest treat for traditional software companies (bigger than the cost of burning and sending CDs around, bigger than the pain of having to install and maintain the software).

The alternative model, the one used by open source and most software as a service companies, is much more organic, experimental and iterative: you build the minimum functionality to offer some value to the customer (enough for them to exit their existing solution and adopt yours) and then you observe, try to get a better understand of how they use the existing solution (and where the rough edges are) and what additional things they would like to do. This direct link between you and the customer combined with fast iterative cycle is the best weapon to use against more traditional software companies: continuously collect feedback, prioritize it, prototype solutions, do A/B testing, create APIs for others to extend your core offering and watch 100 flowers bloom (some of which will be ugly and die, some of which will be very clever and will add value to you offering). Short iterations not only allow you to be fast but to also be much more darwinian: it is much easier to kill a project/idea/feature when you have only spent 2 developers x 2 months. This more organic behavior results into the addition of 100s of meaningful details and the refactoring of 100s of rough edges and becomes key to the the long term success or the failure of a software development project.

Here is an example: In 2003, we created a blog for Collaxa. I remember that back then, Blogger was hands down the best blogging tool available. A couple of weeks ago when I went through the same decision process for this blog, I tried both Blogger and WordPress. I decided to use WordPress, because of where it is in terms of features (number of themes, number of plugins, add-ons, domain options, etc.) and most importantly, because of how fast it is mutating (something that you can not artificially inject into a product no matter how much money you throw at it).

What are some of the other fast mutating species out there? Here are some of the ones which are close to my heart: Firefox (vs. IE and Safari), Ajax (vs. Silverlight and AIR), Eclipse+Aptana, Facebook and Ning.

There is a lot more that can be said about this topic. I think that the trend around organic software development is here to stay and we will see the tipping point shortly.

Updated on Dec 11th, 2007. Since I initially wrote this article, iphone and android have injected a second life in webkit and it is now evolving at a fast and furious pace. The firefox vs. webkit it going to be fascinating to watch!

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4 thoughts on “The Organic Software Trend”

  1. Edwin,
    Nice blog. I agree with you on the short iterative lifecycle and customer interaction. Seth Godin’s latest blog post touches on this issue from an entirely different angle (marketing) but I think emphasizes somewhat similar point. The value and differentiation comes by ‘understanding the customer’ and building relationships/trust rather than feature/functions and marketing campaigns.

    Anshu

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