It's the user experience, stupid

There was a time when software developers aspired to build the next big infrastructure play. The future is in the long-neglected backwater of usability.

Before I forget, I want to flag up this great article on BusinessWeek. It goes right to the heart of the divergence of opinion between people who understand why on-demand is the future of software and people like Jeff Nolan who don't get it yet. Here's a smattering of salient quotes from the article:

  • "The feature wars are over. The new software upstarts have a powerful one-two punch: cheap startup costs and drop-dead ease of use."
  • "When the software works and it's easy, it catches on fast within companies and quickly builds a grassroots following."
  • "Good design is becoming more than a nice-to-have feature. Thanks to slick Web sites like Amazon.com, people are coming to expect software that takes no or little training to use."
  • "It shouldn't come as a big surprise that on-demand software is focused on the user experience ... on-demand software providers have to keep their customers happy with uncluttered, user friendly designs that, at least for now, the old guard can't match."
  • "'SAP and Oracle may be the standards, but if you get something that works, people will hold onto it forever,' [AMR's Bruce] Richardson says. Security software company IronPort Systems is one of several who tried to switch from Salesforce and faced a full-on revolt from the rank and file. 'We're stuck,' says CEO Scott Weiss." 
  • "The talent pool of good designers is getting so dry that venture-capital firm Sierra Ventures has hired Adaptive Path on retainer to consult with startups on usability and design before they even write a line of code -- a big departure from the way software is usually crafted."
  • "Companies like Salesforce and NetSuite have a natural advantage. Since they host the software, they can track every mouse click ... It's like the entire user base is in a real time usability lab."

The debate is nothing to do with hosted versus on-premise. It's about a completely different philosophy of building applications that people just use, and love using. There was a time when software developers aspired to build the next big infrastructure play. Many of them still do. But now the future is in the long-neglected backwater of usability. If users can't get productive with your application in minutes, it's history.