Microsoft talks about Azure and the cloud at its TechEd conference. Apple talks about the iPhone and the App Store at its Worldwide Developers Conference. We have dutifully covered these events and given them prominent play in this newspaper, but pardon us if we can’t get too worked up over them.
To paraphrase the Will Ferrell character Mugatu from the ridiculous 2001 movie “Zoolander:” “Cloud? Mobile? They’re the same story. Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
Indeed, if you only listened to Microsoft, Apple and many other companies, it would seem that all developers care about are building cloud applications and building mobile applications. However, to our eyes, cloud computing is only peripherally a developer issue, and mobile is more about a changing platform target (with a different business model and distribution vehicle) than a new programming paradigm.
No question, companies like Microsoft and Apple are businesses. It’s their job to come up with shiny new toys, both literally and figuratively, to keep the money flowing in. That’s why the hype machine, not only from their PR agencies but also from their pet analyst firms, keeps pounding the same message over and over and over again: It’s cheaper to develop applications for the cloud than it is to build out your data center. And you need your applications to behave as well on a mobile device as they will on a desktop.
OK. We get it.
We can’t help but notice, though, that things that are so critical to development organizations, such as the future of Java, leveraging multicore systems, quality assurance, intellectual property rights, and improving development team productivity, get much shorter shrift these days. Could it simply be that Oracle doesn’t yet have a plan for Java? That only hardware vendors are discussing multicore? Nobody knows how to improve software quality? IP and software rights are an open-source issue without major players behind it? And that developer productivity is, well, boring to the big guys?
And how about these polls, produced by analysts and “sponsored” by software companies, that amazingly reveal that “everyone” has the exact problem their software is designed to solve? Or that open-source developers prefer working on Linux workstations to, say, Windows desktops. Golly, there’s a shocker!
All this merely goes to highlight what we’ve long stated: The gap between where developers are (maintaining older systems and rewriting them to adapt to changing business needs), and where companies selling software and their consultant minions say developers need to be, is wide and apparently won’t be bridged any time soon.
Moonlighting for mobile
Steve Jobs announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference that the company has paid out a billion dollars to the developers of applications sold in its App Store. That’s impressive. What’s not clear is whether a billion “indie” developers each made a dollar, or if a handful of fast-moving, well-funded developers got the lion’s share of the pot.
No matter. What Apple has done is nothing short of injecting new life for entrepreneurial developers. Forget about having to pitch your idea to venture capitalists, hoping someone would fund continuing work and the creation of a true company, and then hope again they could sell it to one of the software giants.
By contrast, Apple’s App Store, and app stores from Salesforce.com and others, lower the barrier of entry to the point that anyone with one good idea and basic programming skills can cash in on that idea without worrying about infrastructure, invoicing or collection. Let Apple or Salesforce do that for you (for a big cut of the revenue, of course), sit back, and watch your game, restaurant finder or historical city overlay help make your car payments.
Of course, at US$1 an app or even $5, you have to sell a lot of restaurant finders to pay off that Maybach. The point is, all you need now is a good idea, or a couple of them, and the development is all you need to concern yourself with. Heck, this business model might even encourage youngsters with a hankering to hack to pursue an education in software development… and work nights coding apps instead of waiting tables to pay for it.