The Evolving World of Software

Computing has experienced profound advancements in the decades since the first building-sized, vacuum tube-powered computers were developed in the mid-20th century. The huge leaps made in hardware, from the integrated circuit to the microprocessor to the continuing development of newer, smaller, faster components, have made sure that software development and distribution has changed rapidly as well. It’s mind boggling to think how far we’ve come in a relatively short 30-40 years…
 
Soon after computers were made widely available, software companies recognized their need to develop methods of limiting access to their programs and copy protection was born. Distribution, also, has changed dramatically, starting, for most home users, as simple 5.25″ floppy disks and ending today with today’s Internet-distributed content. How users access both the software and their data has changed also. For instance, in the later years of the 20th century, a company that wanted to engage in an extensive email marketing campaign would have to purchase its own servers and software, configuring everything manually. Now, however, those capabilities can be accessed via web browser, all of the data storage and processing being performed on a remote machine using a simple interface. More than just the capabilities of individual programs have changed over the years.

Copy Protection

Many software categories suffer from piracy, but few are known for the type of rampant theft that PC games experience. Originally, copy protection was the request to enter a special code, often a specific word from the software’s manual that would unlock the installation program or the full functionality of the program. Soon, however, it became clear that the people who wanted to keep from paying for their programs were dedicated to circumventing anything that developers put in their way. PC game developers began requiring that the physical disk be in the CD-ROM or floppy drive before the game would boot, but pirates began copying the physical media. Eventually online authentication of an authentication code became required to install-sometimes even to play-a game.

Distribution

Most software meant for consumers used to be released via floppy disk. Eventually storage media improved to smaller disks, then to CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs and, in the future, likely to Blu-Ray disks. Physical media, however, is becoming an increasingly niche distribution method. Producing, packing and shipping boxes containing software is more expensive than distributing it via the Internet. With more and more people subscribing to broadband Internet services every year, downloading large amounts of data is no longer a barrier for many. Apple has begun offering all of its software through the Mac App Store, eliminating the need for physical media to install software.

Access

In the past, users had to install any software they wanted to use on their computer or on a device attached to their computer, such as a flash drive. When advanced copy protection became available, users would have to install software on their machines and then authenticate that purchase via the Internet. Now many users purchase and install their software via the Internet. One service that’s beginning to become popular is accessing software over the Internet without a local copy at all. Email marketing services, office productivity suites and even PC games are available for subscription fees across the Internet without requiring the user to install the software at all.

The world of software development changes as rapidly as the hardware. Local installs from floppy disks have given way to programs accessed entirely over the Internet. No one truly knows where the world of software will venture next.