From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog : A History of the Software Industry
||Author: Martin Campbell-Kelly|
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Publisher: MIT Press (01 March, 2003)
Sales Rank: 86,457
Average Customer Rating: 3.86 out of 5
Customer ReviewsRating: 4 out of 5
From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog may sound like a mystifying title, but this book provides a reasonable overview of the history of the software industry. At times, given the ups and downs in the industry, it can't avoid sounding like a catalog of defunct firms and obsolete software. However, this chronology is quite useful for anyone who wants to come up to speed very quickly and very generally on the main trends in the industry. Author Martin Campbell-Kelly covers some of the industry's seminal events and the main categories of software. Vexingly or refreshingly, he takes pains to say as little about Microsoft as possible, making it clear that others have written enough on that subject. So, with that absence duly noted, we recommend this book to those who want an inside history of the software industry, from massive mainframes to little blue cartoon porcupines.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Looping through Memories
This is a history of the Software Industry. "Software" was coined to distinguish it from hardware; it describes the spirit that activates electronic machines. There are three sectors: software contracting, corporate software products, and mass-market software products (pp.3-8). The book covers events from around 1950 to 1995 in the USA. Chapter 1 gives an overview of the sources available. Chapter 2 tells of the origins of software writing, and its need for high-maintenance. Could errors arise from "one minor change"? Early users cooperated in sharing software. FORTRAN and COBOL became the first standard programming languages. But high costs and slipped schedules became typical. Government support for SAGE helped establish US dominance of the computer industry (p.48). The "Great Society" led to investments in non-defense projects.
Chapter 3 discusses "Programming Services". The established techniques of engineering management filtered into programming projects. Program flowcharts became institutionalized, then flushed away by the "fad for 'structured programming'" (p.69). The boom for software companies in the late 1960s reminds me of the dot-com fever in the late 1990s. All fueled from government spending (p.75, P.80). The arrival of minicomputers around 1970 allowed middling companies to own a computer. Chapter 4 tells about the change to "Software Products". Computers were more plentiful and more powerful (pp.90-91), programmers didn't keep up. Lines of code used increased 1000% every 5 years, the cost of developing quadrupled by 1965. Page 100 discusses flowcharting, whose purpose was to graphically represent a program's operations. Sort of like a condensed slide presentation of a topic. Page 102 tells of a secret machine instruction used to improve sorting speed (what was it?).
Chapter 5 tells how the software industry acquired its current shape, and gives an overview. Software products was a capital goods business. Industry specific software requires in-depth knowledge; in systems software programming skills are critical. The success of CICS can be compared to a system of roads where applications can freely travel (p.151). Chapter 6 discusses the maturing of corporate software packages, and growth through acquisition. It focuses on three large firms that became prominent in the 1990s. Some grew by acquiring smaller firms for their products (diversification). The rise of the relational database had an adverse affect on older database technologies. The use of fully integrated business application software (ERP) created new companies. Pages 182-4 overviews the successes of Computer Associates. A relational database did not require knowledge of the internal structure of the database; ever faster computers masked its relative inefficiency. Sales of SAP R/3 benefited from the "fad for business re-engineering" (p.195). Page 197 explains why SAP is more important that Microsoft.
There are strong parallels with other historical systems, such as railroads to airlines. If the database was bundled with the operating system there would be no independent vendors. European firms were able to pioneer ERP because they not not been locked into "legacy software" (p.199). The remaining chapters discuss the history of the personal computer.
Rating: 4 out of 5
How 'Toy Computers' Grew Up
This history of the Software Industry covers personal computers in the last three chapters. The "Acknowledgments" lists his sources and references. Chapter 7 reviews the early development of microcomputers. The invention of the microprocessor in 1971 made microcomputers possible (p.201). The Apple II was the transforming event of April 1977. The fall 1979 release of VisiCalc transformed "toy computers" into a useful machine for businesses. Digital Research's CP/M allowed any application to run on any computer that used CP/M; this allowed program vendors to access a larger market. Microsoft eclipsed DR by providing DOS for the IBM PC, and its games and programming languages. PC software was usually sold by mail, then at stores. The invention of VisiCalc is credited as boosting the market for personal computers. Productivity applications drove the software industry in the early 1980s (p.215). Word processing was aimed at home computing; Word Star was the most successful. Most computer games were produced by sole authors, lasted a few months, and made little money.
Chapter 8 discusses the now mature PC industry. Why did a few companies succeed where many failed? "The Autodesk File" says: product improvements, complementary products, training networks (p.243). Technical competence does not guarantee success unless it meets user needs (p.244). The need to work with two or more applications simultaneously led to "windowing" (p.247); but this required more time and money than first estimated (p.251). Page 253 tells of the big mistake by Lotus' management in rewriting the program. A similar mistake doomed Word Star (p.255). Ashton-Tate's demise is described on page 257. These were one-product companies. Page 259 explains Microsoft's winning strategy for its Office Suite. Page 264 tells of Symantec's strategy for success.
Chapter 9 describes software used for entertainment, and looks at videogames, CD-ROM encyclopedias, and personal finance software. Arcade games replaced older pinball machines during the 1970s. Videogame consoles for the home allowed playing many games. Home computers had a keyboard and secondary storage, and could be programmed by the user. Videogames are similar to recorded music's stream of new titles, and relatively short life. The purpose of a CD-ROM with an encyclopedia was to justify the cost of a computer (p.289). Microsoft's Encarta broke into the 1993 consumer market with multimedia. This coincided with the falling price for CD-ROM drives (p.292), and lowered prices for CD-ROM software. By the early 1990s Quicken was the best selling consumer software product of all time. Its founder entered a crowded field with no track record, an untried product developed by a single programmer (p.295). It was designed to be easy to use, and continually improved.
Chapter 10 discusses the success of Silicon Valley, and the economic and physical environment that created its culture (p.303). Hardware companies tended towards success, software companies less so (p.304). The great number of computers in the US created a market for software companies. The prices for their mature products ruled out competitors. This pattern continued to the personal computer age. One effect of manpower training is to create off-shore body shops to benefit US multi-national corporations. Clustering firms in a small geographic area helps, as does Government subsidies (like the Internet). But misdirecting support can hurt rather than help (p.311). [I found Robert X. Cringely's book to be better.]
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