Thursday, May 24, 2007


The internet is eroding many traditional application categories, and enabling many new ones.

So it's worth revisiting what types of applications there are - which is another way of saying, "what is software for?".

1. Content Management

"Content" could be text, images, diagrams, videos, or sounds, whether produced by professionals or otherwise. Think of emails, phone calls, spreadsheets, organisation charts, books, newspaper articles, TV news, blogs, and shopping lists.

"Management" includes

  • creation (e.g. camera)
  • editing (e.g. photo red-eye elimination)
  • collaboration (e.g. discussing which bits to airbrush)
  • versioning (e.g. knowing who, when and how it was edited)
  • distribution (e.g. emailing photos, or publishing them to a website)
  • consumption (e.g. viewing in a browser or digital photo frame)
  • search (e.g. Google Images)
  • storage (e.g. Photobucket online storage)
Microsoft Office ruled Content Management for over a decade. Now, the industry is moving towards the internet for distribution, web browsers for consumption, Google for search, and a host of online services - "Web 2.0" - for editing, collaboration, versioning, and storage. Although the revolution started in the consumer world, content management is moving to the enterprise too.

2. Consumer Services

Many applications provide services (above and beyond content) for the general population. Examples include banking, shopping, dating, gaming, and travel websites.

Consumer services was the focus of Web 1.0 and the first dot-com boom, with the awful moniker "disintermediation". Companies built websites on top of their back-end Process Management systems, to provide a cheap new way to reach their customers.

3. Process Management

Process software is what keeps organizations ticking. "Process" includes HR, Finance, Sales, Supply Chain Management, and a host of industry-specific processes. "Management" involves driving workflow, enforcing business rules, managing data, providing reports and charts to track success, and offering tools to improve the process further.

SAP and Oracle are the major providers of Process Management software, but many Software as a Service (SAAS) suppliers are challenging their business models using the internet as a distribution channel. Major corporations employ armies of software developers instead, to ensure a competitive advantage.

4. Environment Management

Software is also used to sense and control the physical environment. Examples include thermostats, ABS braking in cars, production line robots, talking child's toys, oil rig drill systems, and vending machines.

This is the area that the web hasn't yet reached - although TCP/IP is often used for device communications, and HTML displays are used as dashboards.

5. System Software

System software is used internally in the IT industry to power the four application types above. Examples include operating systems, anti-virus tools, databases, and storage management systems.

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