04 August 2011

MS Access vs. LightSwitch: About Starts and Ends of Software Products

Introduction

    When an important software product or technology is released on the market, it brings with it dooming prophecies about the end/death of a competing or related product or technology. Even if maybe it catches the attention, the approach became a stereotype leading to other futile fights between adepts, some food for thought and a pile of words for search engines. As LightSwitch was released recently, people started already sketching dooming plans for competing tools like MS Access, Silverlight, WebMatrix, Visual Studio, etc. It’s actually interesting to study and understand how the entry on the software market impacts the overall landscape, the publishing of more or less pertinent thoughts on the future of a product are more than welcome, though from this to forecasting the end of a software product or technology, at least not without well-grounded reasons, it’s a long way.
    In many cases it’s not even needed to go too deep into the features of the compared software products in order to dismiss such statements, this because there are a few common sense reasons for which the respective products will coexist, at least for the near future. Here are a few of them grouped into technology, products, people, partners and processes. Please note that by the terms old and new (software) products I’m referring here to a product existing on the market for a longer time, respectively a newly entered product.

Technology

    In theory a new software product attempts to take advantage of the latest technological advances in the field, following the trends. Also an old product can take advantage of the latest technological developments, though a certain backward compatibility needs to be maintained, fact that could come with advantages and disadvantages altogether. Considering that nowadays such a product doesn’t exist “per se” but in a complex infrastructure with multiple layers of interconnectivity, a new product has to fit also in the overall picture.
    A product in particular and a technology in general is doomed to extinction when it’s not more able to cope with the trends, when its characteristics don’t satisfy anymore users’ demands or the overhead of using it is greater than its benefits. As long two competing software products are trying to keep up with the trends and consolidate their market, the chances that they will parish are quite small. On the other side, each technology has sooner or later its own end.

Products

    Software products having a few years on the market have reached in theory a certain maturity and stability. New software products typically go through an adoption phase that may last from months to years, and it will take time until they reach a certain maturity and stability, until their market develops, until vendors include them in their portfolio, until other products will develop interfaces to them, etc. First of all it will take some time until the two will come to have the same market share, and secondly it will take even more time until the market share of one of the products will deprecate. In addition, markets embrace diversity and the demands are so various that each product arrives to find his place.
   When the products are coming from the same vendor and they are a part of greater packages and strategies, it’s hard to believe that a vendor would want to blow in the air his own business. Usually the two solutions target different markets, even if their markets intersect. Sure, there are also cases when a vendor might want to strengthen the position of a product in the detriment of another, especially when the benefits are higher.

People

    Often different products demand different skill sets or an upgrade of skill set. For sure not all developers will move from one platform to the other, some will be reticent, while others are declared fans so there is no way to move to something new. Sure, in IT there are frequent the cases when developers have knowledge about 2-3 competing products, though this aspect doesn’t necessarily have a huge impact on the short term. Considering that software products are becoming more and more complex, it’s sometimes even needed a specialization covering only a part of a product.

Partners

    Vendors and Customers, especially existing partners, will most probably approach and evaluate the new product, find a place in their portfolio/solution, conduct some pilot projects and eventually consider the product for further use. We can talk here about an adoption period, corroborated with the appearance of training material, best practices, books or any other material that facilitate the use of such a product. All this time requires time and effort, successful and unsuccessful projects, some years of experience.

Processes

    Organizations have already in place solutions based on a product and integrated with other products. Some of them could be personal solutions, and maybe quite easy to replace, though the replacement of business/enterprise solutions come maybe with important expenses, changes in the infrastructure, and maybe the most important, process changes. And why change something that’s working just for the sake of change?! Sure, if there is the need for a second or third product, this doesn’t (always) mean that all the previous similar products will be replaced. For sure the two or more products can coexist, even if provide similar functionality, and the can maybe complete each other.

Conclusion

    If one product or another will come to its end, for sure only time will tell. Usually when this happens, there are multiple factors that influenced the decay, factors that could be used maybe to foresee such an event. Though, without a detailed analysis or at least some well-supported ideas, dooming declarations about the rise or fall of software products are kind of futile, even if intended to catch readers’ attention. Enthusiastic or contradictory feelings about old or new products are natural, expressing opinions is free and welcomed when there is something to say, though are such declarations really necessary?!

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