- Thanks to the dominance of the cloud and mobile devices, the collaboration marketplace is beginning to see faster, more transparent software update cycles for desktop software.
- The result is software that is always up-to-date and users constantly in need of education and training.
Like many in the IT industry, I’m a bit of a technophile. I relish the experience of discovering new things, new devices, new operating systems, and of course new software. That makes me a dangerously early adopter who’d rather suffer through software and hardware glitches right now rather than wait for time to sort things out. That time, after all, is all it takes for the next version of whatever I’m waiting on to reach my laptop or mobile device. So why wait?
When it comes to feeding that particular beast, software developers and even hardware manufacturers (to a certain degree) have certainly done their part. Product release cycles that were once 18 months or more are now typically 90 days or less. This phenomenon is in no small part due to a move to the cloud and to the use of more rapid engineering practices such as Agile software development. Even the two year average mobile device lifespan is beginning to shrink thanks to better contracts and a more lenient stance on device ownership. For IT managers, these trends have historically required either a reliance upon the Web as a common denominator or a commitment to update native client applications on a frequent basis. Both are expensive with the first imposing a limited feature set (compared with native software) and the second demanding a significant investment in deployment costs and user training.
Fortunately, the idea of an always up-to-date desktop application is beginning to take shape. Thanks to app stores and push technology, the software update process on mobile devices is nearly transparent. There are some desktop app store attempts from both Microsoft and Apple attempting the same. Some applications themselves, like Google Chrome, automatically check for, download and install any updates, all in the background. And many enterprise-focused solutions like Convo are now offering the same sort of treatment for their Adobe Air-based desktop app. The end result? For starters, an end of product versions or at least versions that are visible to end users. Quick, which version of Google Chrome is on your desktop? (The correct answer, btw, is the most current version.)
I can’t imagine that we’ll reach a point where enterprise users expect to automatically receive nightly builds as with some open source projects like CyanogenMod (a firmware replacement for Android devices), but I can see a subtle shift toward this numberless software versioning where neither IT professionals nor users need worry about how and when they can take advantage of new software features. The only fly in this ointment of course is user training. To paraphrase a Zen koan, “if an application is updated but no one is around to see the update, has that software really changed?” There is no amount of software wizardry capable of removing the need for IT to communicate software updates and help users discover and make use of those changes.