Software above the level of one device

I’ve been catching up with some podcasts, and in particular LUGRadio (The Diva Cup), wherein they finally catch up with Tim O’Reilly – who has been saying for years that we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift (and this audio of one variation of his talk)

Tim points out that we’re so enamoured with open source at the OpenOffice v. MS Office, what’s the next killer app level that we’re missing the bigger picture – Google makes everyone a Linux user, and Flickr, Yahoo, Amazon, etc mean that we’re all PHP, MySQL, Perl, and god know what else users, whether we realise it or not.

Which is great but the other angle, that all these Web2.0 companies borrow is that they rely on our participation – our data – to make themselves better. Google uses our links (amongst other things) to decide which results are better, Amazon has no more functionality than Barnes and Noble but it has an order of magnitude more review, lists, comments, which is why it’s so much better and so on. And as Tim is so good at doing he coined a catchphrase – he called this phenomena an ‘Architecture of Participation’.

But all this came with a warning and a plea – the warning was that these are proprietary services, that potentially have locked up our data, and he pleaded for a open source definition for the ‘Internet operating system’. He points out that the source code to Amazon, Flickr, or Google, while it might be interesting, isn’t very useful – you can’t re-create Amazon with just the code, you need the suply chain, and all the user contributed data that makes it valuable. But that is our data, and we need something like the GPL (or MPL, or MIT, etc), that guarantees our access to it – as Tim points out open source behaviour happens quite naturally (even inside proprietary companies) all a licence does is formalise a particular architecture of participation.

An this is kind of what Jono, Ade, Aq, and Adam (guest presenter) were discussing, in their own way, as to whether web apps were any good or not.

The killer line in Tim’s essay/talk is the quote, written in 2003, by David Stutz

Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come.

The example Tim uses is iTunes music store. It’s a web service delivered through a desktop client that syncs to a portable media player. I’ve heard it’s relatively sucessful.

Meanwhile Luis and Dave Neary have been ganging up on OOo and trying to encourage them to think different rather than chase the taillights.

A while ago Google buys Writely and we all know that GDrive is coming (and that S3 is already here).

Wouldn’t it be good if we could get some of that on the desktop: imagine a mashup of Abiword, gobby, gnome-vfs, beagle, and (the as yet nonexistant) Ajax-abiword-writely (a better product name would be needed, let’s just call it Jabiword), which means I could;

  • fire up abiword and start writing some document
  • save that document onto some storage in the sky – whether it’s GDrive, S3 or just some space on my webhost
  • start collaborating, in real time, on that document with a colleague working at an interent cafe through Jabiword
  • easily include pictures from my harddisk, flickr, Gallery, Riya (or where-ever), definitions from wikipedia, a quote from a blog, etc

What if we could mash-in iFolder so that the document was available offline too?

Now that would be Web2.0, and as Cartman would say that would “Kick ass!”.

But this is my concern – that the current free software desktops are so busy chasing, and overtaking, the taillights that they are missing the real opportunities (you can argue the merits of my particular idea, but there’s loads more, and better, ideas out there I’m sure).

As Luis points out on a slightly different angle – we’ve (subconciously) re-created the silos of the proprietary desktop, where email, im, voip, blogs, etc don’t relate to each other – which is crazy, since our code, our file formats, our bug databases, our mailing list are all open. One of the killer features of GAIM is that incorporates all the disparate IM silos into one app – let’s extend that to every form of communication, let’s endevour to have software above the level of one silo.

We’ve inherited the silo mentality from the proprietary software culture, and we need to get rid of it, and we need to listen to someone who used to live in the proprietary world when they tell us about software above the level of one device (or silo or service).

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