Thursday, July 9, 2009

software has no intrinsic value

After Kent Beck's musings on how to find paying customers for his work on JUnitMax, and on capital efficiency, I started wondering, well, if we won't buy from Beck, who will we buy from? Maybe no one--in fact, recently, I've stopped buying software. It comes embedded in the gadgets I buy, or it comes OEM with my new PC, or is available on a free CD that accompanied a gadget I just paid for. Even with all this "free" software, the first thing I do with a new toy is try to make it work with my computer without installing any of the bundled software at all... and speaking of minimizing my need for software--the first thing I do with a new PC is uninstall as much as I can get away with. Why do I uninstall? To me, each unused application is waste, risk, in short, rubbish--so I clean up aggressively. It's not that I don't have any software at all. Every once in a while I do need software that wasn't given to me, so I'll evaluate a few freebies online, and ultimately choose some product that does the job well enough.

Note the change in focus here--I'm talking about getting a job done. There's no intrinsic value in the software itself--but there is potential to accomplish a task, and therein lies its value. Yet it's rare that my needs correspond exactly with the software's behavior. So if it doesn't do exactly what I need, and there's a free one that is just about as inadequate, why not go for the free option?

I'm not alone. The prevalence of free web software (from list serves to social networking to banking), plus the thousands of open and closed source software products that are available free download, suggest that there may not be much time left for people that are still trying to sell their software.

Now for the irony--I've been paid for years as a 'software developer' for in-house applications, and there are lots of other workers getting paid to contribute to free software. Where's the money coming from? Where's the value? As I've already said, it's not the software. The value comes from getting the job done better. The less software involved, the better (per James Shore's spag code debt model). I think, then, my job isn't to write software. My job is to solve business problems... to figure out what the business really needs, to deliver value, with as little technology/effort as possible.

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