I had the privilege of speaking at the southern California IASA (International Association of Software Architects) meeting, and connect with the great group of people there.
I talked about "Software Plus Services" (S+S). In essence it is a vision of the future. Microsoft came up with this "S+S" moniker, but it is just intending to describe a future where all kinds of software working together to provide consistent, seamless, yet targeted experiences for the users.
Granted, S+S can be interpreted as Microsoft’s attempt at holding onto the client software market, which also seems a rather lone voice these days in the sea of Web 2.0, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models. But a real relevant question is, what does the future look like beyond Web 2.0 and SaaS? Many Web visionaries have suggested a future where everything is in the cloud (or Web) and provisioned (delivered) via browsers to the end users. And that’s still a highly probable future, as browsers will improve in sophistication, and more computing devices will support browsers.
While browser-based applications provide the simplicity in deployment and immediate universal reach, they also represent a one-size-fits-all approach to meet customer needs. For example, most perpetually-beta websites have just one version for all users. The commonly described elegant simplicity in user experience in the primary website is probably good enough for most visitors. However, many organizations are also realizing that they need to deliver different kinds of experiences for different user communities (such as "power users" often higher in value), in order to maintain their relationships and differentiate from competitors.
Thus the question is then, do we build multiple versions of a website for different groups of users, or do we deliver different kinds of software that can provide a higher level of service? Basically, no right generic answer for that question, as both are valid options for different scenarios. But the point here is, it should not seem so far-fetched to evaluate options beyond browser applications at this point.
In fact, many organizations have taken this route to deliver value to their users. For example, eBay has delivered a desktop application for their power users, while an ecosystem of third-party developers also exist that provide different kinds of software applications that plug into the Web services API’s eBay offers. There are also recent news of TV manufacturers offering support for direct viewing of content from Youtube (or AppleTV which already has a built-in menu for Youtube). The point is, specialized software implemented to operate beyond the browser platform is showing up in many, many different places. Their goals are simple – to provide a more intuitive user experience for people, by creating targeted and differentiated experiences that link to their core services.
So I think a higher probability exists that the future will not be just "everything run inside the browsers". It will still be the primary means of access for most consumers, but it doesn’t have the be the only means of delivery of value to customers.
And this is one of the fundamental aspects of S+S; the power of choice. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach to address all problems, we as architects should be in a position where we can map multiple options to a specific issue, then choose the right combination of options depending on the trade-off evaluations. A spectrum of choices can be viewed as:
- Choice in design/implementation – client, server, mobile devices, composite apps, embedded apps, etc.
- Choice in delivery – on-premise, third-party hosted, vendor hosted, etc.
- Choice in monetization – traditional licensing, subscription, services/support, advertising, etc.
And the S+S future vision points out a bigger picture view of things where options that span this entire software spectrum, can be utilized in different combinations to deliver value to end-users.
If you’re interested to chat more about this, please feel free to reach out. The slide deck I presented can be downloaded as PPT from the Slideshare.net link above (~20MB), or the PPTX is available on Winodws Live Skydrive (~10MB).