TECH TALK

Big changes ahead for your software


Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.

With each passing day, the usefulness of mobile devices continues to make its desktop older brothers less and less relevant. “Big Software” has gotten fat and happy charging hundreds, even thousands of dollars for applications that now go for pennies on the dollar in the mobile app world. The Big Software solution to this disparity is to move farther from software-in-a-box and toward cloud-computing subscriptions.

In a nutshell, instead of buying programs like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office for a large one-time fee, you would subscribe to web-based versions with monthly or annual payments. Such a model ensures you have the latest version until of course you stop paying, then, poof, it's all gone.

Kind of like the difference between buying and renting.

You can go out and buy Photoshop CS6 for a whopping $700 for your desktop or $9.99 for its little cousin Photoshop Touch app for an iPad. Now that's like comparing a grape to a watermelon as far as functionality is concerned, but it's still a useful comparison. As a photographer, I have been using Photoshop every day for the last 15 years. That said, I use roughly 5 to 10 percent of what the software actually does, so tailored alternatives are certainly welcome.

Take Microsoft Office, the standard bearer of software suites with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Exchange, to name a few. You might find them useful enough to drop $250, just be prepared to kick yourself when you see that Google offers their own versions of each for, well, free.

Other companies will surely evolve to subscriptions as they seek to avoid the continuing cannibalization inherent in the tech world. Laptops have taken a bite from desktops, tablets have taken a bite from laptops, and some people have given up everything for a simple smartphone. Software like Photoshop and Office were once the only show in town and were built as one-size-fits-all. Apps are made with sniper-like intentions to fit your specific need. There are literally dozens of options now in each genre.

Big Software is also facing a rapidly evolving business model. Instead of cash, Google offers its Office-like version for free to provide an ecosystem that ensures you're always using the Google search engine. Other app makers are bringing in revenue based on in-app advertising or for pay-as-you-go features. In short, the days of taking out a mortgage to afford software to crop a photo or write a letter are over.

Clearly, companies like Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle face big risks in a tech world that evolves faster than a tadpole swimming near a nuclear plant. Will users be happy paying, say $100 a year, for Office? If they want to continue to use the newest features, they will have no choice because the traditional upgrades are going away.

Still for those like me who have for years invested in upgrading expensive software like Photoshop, how long will it take for a new feature to come along that entices me to give up my entire investment in favor of a new rental agreement? It better be good.

At the very least, it will be a compelling exercise in the old laws of supply and demand.

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