Joe Kraus of bnoopy blog, formerly employed by Excite and now of JotSpot.com writes an interesting article outlining the future of software in the long tail.
Bnoopy: The long tail of software. Millions of Markets of Dozens.
Basically what it comes down to is the next major generation of software will be wikiesque collaborative software. Social Software. That's what Jotspot is working on, and while I'm not necessarily in agreement with their execution, I wholly agree with them on this point.
I've been telling people for a while now that in the future the wiki will be seen as the MS Word of this decade, but it's more than that. Basically nearly everything we work on in individual user desktop apps is cramping our collaborative nature. The emailing and tracking of versions of documents is a huge problem to productivity, and I haven't seen Microsoft nor anyone doing anything about it yet. It seems pretty obvious that we need more collaborative "living documents" and also pretty obnoxious to say the majority of businesses are wholly blind to this fact, but sadly it's true.
Web based collaborative apps that multiple people can edit nearly simultaneously are the future replacements of Excel, MS Word, and hundreds of desktop based single user applications. We don't need Power Point presentations we can email around. We need power point projects that can live online. We don't need Excel docs we can share, we need Excel docs we can collaborate on, that can draw on live data and numbers, perhaps from other projects that others are working on. This is the new legacy of software applications. Living documents, live documents, living projects, social software, collaborative software.
On a side note, I would argue that Open Source Software is uniquely suited to this cause do to its adaptability and flexibility. Also, that we're beginning to see some of these tools. One such is 37 Signals new Backpackit, which is a collaborative to do list and basic scheduler. In some respects so is Flickr though both these are a long, long way from collaborative project makers with gant charts, collaborative accounting applications.
Now that web browsers are slowly standardizing and front end development is getting much more fluid, a la' AJAX, we should soon be picking up pace toward a more social, more collaborative generation of applications. Applications that are the realization of the "thin client" that those such as the head of Oracle dreamed of yesteryear.
The applications they dreamed of and talked about then were little more than network running ports of Excel running of a mainframe server. They thought the cost of putting the technology at the edges of the network would cause networks to re-centralize. Wow, they couldn't have been more wrong. And yet, little did they realize the coming reality of their visions would not only be nothing like that which they dreamed, but also SO MUCH MORE. Collaboration is driving not the centralization of networks, but the centralization of data and the connectivity of decentralized applications. Even the Outlook Exchange Server architecture is being decentralize in the Chandler Project, though I guess this is hardly a trend.
In fact though I have no doubt how big this next generation of social applications will be, we have just scratched the surface and in fact it may be premature to speculate just how big or just what will be the driving force. I suspect it'll be collaboration that drives it, a social revolution in applications, but in fact if I've learned anything from the past it's that direction has a way of being changed by as-yet-unseen forces and driven in ways which we cannot foresee. Though we cannot see the future only very rarely does it not surpass our expectations. Guessing the future is most thrilling because of the delightful way it proves us wrong. In other words...
The future will be nothing you think it will be, and yet SO MUCH MORE.
Via evhead: The long tail of software. Millions of Markets of Dozens.
Oh, all this and what does it have to do with the long tail? I guess you might say that these collaborative applications will be hand tailored for the unique use by small groups, as Joe Kraus points out, "market's of a dozen". These will be your HR team, your marketing team, your accounting team.
Company to company each one will have their own workflow. They won't be running Word, or Excel or whatever they run now, they'll be running highly customized collaborative workflow applications that have been set up specifically for their needs. I'm betting even if they come from proprietary software companies like Microsoft they will have to be increasingly flexible. Moreover though I'm guessing open source will fuel this area with corporate developers installing and customizing solutions. Applications like Excell and Power Point and Word will become merely readers for published materials, allowing for the viewing of standardized export formats, much like Adobe Acrobat Reader. You might even say this is the real future of the paperless office that never materialized. Though it is likely somehow we'll still manage to use even more paper.
Innovation will bubble up through these infinite solutions to inform development on the core technology. This is pretty much how open source works now anyway.