Month: August 2011

The end of software transparency?


Fantastic sculpture.

It brings to mind that more and more we are operating on the level of the black-box, of magickal thinking, of objects and processes that ‘just work’ … until they don’t. That computing was once transparent, but is no longer. Consider most of your mobile phone experiences, hopefully fantastic, but when it stops you must find an expert, or replace the broken, now ‘imp free’ device.

In many ways, this is the goal of the ‘consumer’ device.

Living in an age of magic made real is very appealing in many ways, we can ignore the constraints of time and space to communicate with our friends and colleagues all over the world. We live in an age where combinatorial combinations of human capabilities and technologies can solve most any problem, as argued by Matt Ridley in his optimistic TED talk on ideas ‘having sex’ . But, increasingly it feels like we’re losing the ease, much celebrated by earlier generations, of being able to understand the underlying process, of unpacking all the way down to creating that water wheel, etc. Of being able to tune our own car engine, or indeed to fix our TV. Indeed, it seems that we’ve become so very good at using modules, at sub-processes, at, arguably, code/module re-use. And where, ultimately does this leave us? What constrainst are we building into our lack of understanding?

The reality is that this is not a new thing. It has been going on in computing repeatedly as we create a useful abstraction: adders, CPUs, memory, virtual memory, virtual users, virtual machines, and so on. This has now reached a point where powerful computing is easily and cheaply integrated into other activities – this is the main point of Andreessen’s article (also discussed on technoist).  What’s new is that we’re heading to an age where the outcomes from computing are more and more ‘commodity’, packaged, wrapped, and protected from meddling. More and more .. part of the world.

This is not a new process. The reuse of modules for factories, for commodities, for food, for almost everything in the modern economy is created in such a way. Leonard Read had a wonderful essay in 1958 showing that no one person nows how to create ‘even’ a pencil, and that this was a very good thing.

Software is more and more just a component piece for pretty much ‘everything’. We can see this in the move from transparency to packaged objects designed to be opaque. This is the transition for software, for computing, to be absorbed, as never before, into the broader economic process; into factory built objects. Into objects of magick.

Andreessen – Why Software Is Eating the World => Perez – the dynamics of bubbles and golden ages …

This week, Hewlett-Packard (where I am on the board) announced that it is exploring jettisoning its struggling PC business in favor of investing more heavily in software, where it sees better potential for growth. Meanwhile, Google plans to buy up the cellphone handset maker Motorola Mobility. Both moves surprised the tech world. But both moves are also in line with a trend I’ve observed, one that makes me optimistic about the future growth of the American and world economies, despite the recent turmoil in the stock market.

In short, software is eating the world.

More than 10 years after the peak of the 1990s dot-com bubble, a dozen or so new Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter are sparking controversy in Silicon Valley, due to their rapidly growing private market valuations, and even the occasional successful IPO. With scars from the heyday of Webvan and still fresh in the investor psyche, people are asking, “Isn’t this just a dangerous new bubble?”

I, along with others, have been arguing the other side of the case. (I am co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz, which has invested in Facebook, Groupon, Skype, Twitter, Zynga, and Foursquare, among others. I am also personally an investor in LinkedIn.) We believe that many of the prominent new Internet companies are building real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses.

Nicely argued techno-optimistic view on the future for software from Mark Andreessen.

As it happens, I agree with his view that we’re reaching a new plateau of productivity with software. I found it striking that his argument is a point in time illustration of the forecast from “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages” from Carlotta Perez in 2003 about the relatively predictable cycles of adoption and economic shift for major technological innovation and the expectation, as one of her reviewers put it on Amazon that we “are in the last throes of a technological bubble and just preceding the next period of productive improvement and profit from the disruptive technologies in the 1990.”

Check it out

Interesting times for the software ‘game’ …

Adventures in Capitalism: The Lesson of Dropbox: Usage = Value

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 The Lesson of Dropbox: Usage = Value

Word on the street is that Dropbox is about to raise a major round of financing at a $5 billion+ valuation. While some will cry ???Bubble!???, I think there’s a different lesson we can learn: Usage = Value. Let’s face it???Dropbox isn’t the
Posted byChris Yehat11:55 AM

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Usage + ‘Stickiness’ = value
Dropbox is a great example, it’s baked into too many day to day personal processes to be easily displaced.