October 18, 2005

30 years of software stories

I’ve long wanted to document the history of the software industry – and related parts of the technology world — for two major sets of reasons.

First, it’s simply an amazing industry – one of the great entrepreneurial successes of all time. From its start in the early 1960s, the computer software and services industry fought off a series off virulent attacks from much stronger and more powerful groups – the computer hardware industry, the aerospace industry (the first big timesharers), the banks, and the accountants. Products were innovated right and left; so were sales and marketing strategies. (And so, alas, also were financial accounting shenanigans.) With limited exceptions, this wonderful slice of business history is not well documented at all. And all instruction aside — I have experienced or otherwise picked up a lot of great stories in my 24 years of involvement in the technology industry, and just want to share some of them.

Second, a lot of the industry’s history is recent enough to provide significant perspective on our present and future. Software is central to how businesses and other enterprises (including governments) operate. It’s increasingly central to how we live at home. Software is important, and how it has been sold and used in the recent past is in many cases a good guide to how it will affect our lives in the near future. And since I’m a software industry consultant and analyst, professionally interested in which strategies and companies will succeed and fail, I have an especial interest in extracting whatever lessons I can from what has gone before.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch this industry from an early stage. The first time I visited Oracle it had fewer than 50 employees. The same is true of Lotus. I’ve consulted at the CEO level to a lot of the industry’s most interesting or biggest companies, and at lower levels to some of the rest. I’ve had spirited, multi-hour talks with many of the industry’s luminaries (some were even sober at the time). I’ve been a newsbreaker and a newsmaker. Along the way I even picked up considerable insight into the industry’s doings well before I got involved (which was in 1981). And I don’t want all these memories to be lost.


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