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The present future of software

Solaris boss Anil Gadre writes that the shift in software from shrink-wrapped product to online services is changing the rules of the game for developers and users.

Computer operating systems are irrelevant, or should be, to most people.

That may sound odd, coming as it does from the person in charge of advancing his company's operating system, but think about it: To home and office users alike, it's the applications that run on top of the operating system that really count. To the developers who create applications and Web services, it's the middleware--the application server, directory, and so on--that counts.

The only people who should be concerned with the operating system are the chief information officer and folks who manage network resources. They're the ones who have to deal with questions of availability, security and scalability--the capacity to grow without adding undue complexity.

Developers shouldn't need to think about the OS; they should be able to aim higher, at a new software category I call the "service-delivery platform."

As this shift in software continues from shrink-wrapped product to online services, the rules of the game are changing. It used to be that developers tried to sell millions of copies of a program, each installed on a single machine with a single user. Now the challenge is to build a single instance of an application to serve millions of users over the network.

That's a huge difference.

As the shift in software continues from shrink-wrapped product to online services, the rules of the game are changing.
The aim of the service-delivery platform is to make it just as easy for developers to create a large-scale service as it was to create a single shrink-wrapped program for a standalone PC. Developers need to know that certain components are always going to be there--a directory, a network file service, an application server. Those are the components of the service-delivery platform.

Although part of the base platform, these components may also come from a variety of companies offering open-standards-based technology, so long as they present a set of core services that developers can count on--and no proprietary extensions or libraries to cause porting problems.

The business drivers behind this are the twin problems of complexity and cost. Integrating core services into the base platform addresses both problems and begins a powerful chain of events:

The aim of the service-delivery platform is to make it just as easy for developers to create a large-scale service as it was to create a single shrink-wrapped program for a standalone PC.
• It eases the software developer's ability to innovate, knowing those core elements will be reliably present.

• It lowers the cost of the platform for the business enterprise while raising the richness of the platform's functionality.

• And it accelerates the adoption of Web services by providing a core stack of infrastructure services.

With budgets tight and competition fierce, customer acquisition and retention are more important than ever. And that makes Web services a critical tool--a cost-effective means of getting to know the customers in your directory and providing them with personalized service.

In a networked world in which the ability to add new services may be the essential element in achieving and maintaining profitability, it's important to look beyond the cost of hardware, software and ongoing support services--the traditional elements of TCO, or total cost of ownership.

The critical questions for software developers, service providers and business enterprises alike are these: How extensible is your technology platform? How open is it? Will it enable you to get new services to market quickly?

That's how TCO, and software, must be measured today.