The Best Underappreciated Software Applications
- Chan Bok - Axon
- Lotus - Improv
- Arabesque Software - Ecco
(That's right: Arabesque, not NetManage...
NetManage didn't do a clue-influenced act with this acquisition)
- Living Videotext - More
- Douglas Engelbart - Augment
These (except Augment) are past discoveries that I still use today, though the latest updates to them were more than a decade ago.
What makes good software?
(You may liberally validly insert "for me" or "in my opinion" anywhere in a blog, as you know.)
Here, I'm not so much referring to software that does a precise mission-critical thing very well. There's a role for such software, and these can be specified by "experts" and built by engineering teams. ERP, CRM, HRM, checkbook management, etc. are all very useful categories of software that have defined function, and therefore defined ROI models.
I'm more interested in how the human being can do more, via the tools s/he employs. More in a deeply qualitative sense. I'm interested in software that magnifies the power of a human being, through augmentation and amplification of one's thinking, pattern matching, reasoning, and modeling functions.
Power vs Specification: ERP, CRM, Financial management, etc. applications have no end of feature backlog that product managers can document and justify, in order to flesh out the functionality breadth (use cases, boundaries, NFR's, etc) of an application. The above products were driven primarily by single individuals (or at most, small teams).
Power vs Size: The popular applications these days take entire CD's to install (some several DVDs). But if you look at the applications above, they were each delivered with packages amounting to just a few megabytes.
Non-specific Semantics: Unlike popular applications that embed the semantics of the problem space into the objects and actions of the application, the ones above *don't* exhibit such verticalization. They are "horizontal" in the sense that the objects are very general objects, and that the power of the application lies in the ability of the user to map these objects into the objects of the user's specific problem space.
Therein lies the unfortunate corollary. Due to the non-immediacy (and therefore, perceived relevance) to any specific problem space, these power tools were less embraced, because they didn't obviously help solve any particular individual's problem. The segment of the human population that can appreciate such tools is understandably several standard deviations from the mode, and therefore represent a small (commercially unviable) audience.
Another corollary? Perhaps these need to be removed from commercial relevance. Perhaps the only way these will survive and thrive is via an open source model.
Chan Bok's "Axon" is of course an interesting argument against this corollary. He's been able to keep this alive because he uses a development tool (Visual Prolog) that magnifies *his* effectiveness.