The computer software industry, unlike the more traditional manufacturing and services industries, is coping with the current gloomy economic climate as best it can by concentrating on transforming interesting ideas into novel technology, must-have applications, and competitive maneuvering vis-a-vis rivals. Profits may be down at the moment but expectations, whether for companies like Microsoft, Apple, and IBM or Intel, Symantec and Oracle, remain quite high.
Remond, WA-based software giant Microsoft is currently battling the European Commission over inclusion of its Internet Explorer web browser in operating system software. The popular browser, used by millions of Internet surfers without thought of alternatives, does have some serious rivals, including the Norwegian-developed Opera, the open-source entry Firefox from Mozilla, and Google’s new Chrome, which also is formulated on open-source code. Users wishing to try out these Internet interfaces have to download them specifically, usually by first opening up Internet Explorer and then conducting a search for other browsers. It is not easy to fathom why the Europeans regard this as an anti-trust issue because Microsoft isn’t actually forcing folks to use Internet Explorer exclusively or forever, even if the company is certainly promoting IE as the best way to access the web. One often-heard gripe from rival browser producers is that IE isn’t even compliant with the most recent standards, consequently forcing website programmers to include code specifically to handle IE’s quirks. In any event, this situation is an example of the importance computer software has to many people’s lives, given that access to the Internet has become not only crucial but is even taken for granted.
Microsoft’s foray into netbooks, small bare-bones laptops, has been less fraught with controversy but has nonetheless brought out competitors, both proprietary software developers and open-source advocates. Google, the popular search engine portal, is planning to debut netbooks featuring the Android operating system, an open-source development. Intel’s Moblin OS is another entry in the fast-growing field of tiny and inexpensive computers. Intel also produces the low-power Atom computer chips which drive its own mini laptops as well as those currently made by Acer, Dell, HP, and Sony. Redwood Shores, CA-based Oracle, known for database products, may also market a netbook, possibly one employing Java, the programming language invented by Sun Microsystems, a company recently purchased by Oracle. Adobe, known for imaging software and PDF technology, is reportedly developing a Flash version for portable electronics, like cell-phones and netbooks.
Rivalry as a stimulus to invention and innovation is a good thing. Challenges to Microsoft have made the company more responsive to users who have adopted products like MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as standard software applications. With the advent of cloud computing, the emerging utilization of the web exclusively to access software applications and to store resulting data, Microsoft will have to work out ways to satisfy past and new users of its Office products. Armonk, NY-based IBM is planning to provide access to its business software over the web in partnership with a subsidiary of Amazon, the massive shopping portal. Cupertino, CA-headquartered Symantec, noted for its anti-virus software products, is also offering data backup services in the cloud, over the Internet. In another category, Microsoft’s new search portal Bing, developed to pry web searchers from complete reliance on Google, is winning converts even though the site has only just debuted.
Additional issues facing the computer software industry are piracy, a crime which may lessen once software applications are more often found and used on the Internet and are not available on individual computers; portability, the transferability of software among operating systems; and SDKs, software development kits made available to the public in order to stimulate new ideas for using particular software systems. Notable success on this last issue is evident in Apple’s SDK release for developers interested in its popular iPhone.
Software R&D remains a hotbed, whether for industry leader Microsoft or for its many competitors, apparently without much regard for any incidental, worldwide economic malaise.
Thomas Claburn, “Microsoft Nearly Killed Browser Competition, Mozilla’s Baker Charges”, Information Week
“IBM to Deliver Software via Cloud Computing With Amazon Web Services”, IBM press release
“Symantec Business Customers Send Their Data Backups to the Cloud”, Symantec press release
Randall Stross, “Shooting to Software Stardom on the iPhone”, New York Times
Bob Blandeburgo, “Microsoft-Google Competition Heats up with Launch of Bing Search Engine”, Money Morning
“Oracle’s Ellison considers netbook market foray”, The Guardian/Reuters
Jim Finkle, “Symantec to expand cloud-based software”, Reuters