This week, 1,200 people paid $2,100 to spend two solid days watching demos of new products deemed the hottest on the horizon by the editors of IDG’s Demo newsletter. This collection of industry players, reporters, and future millionaires—all of whom have a lot riding on the future of computer and Internet technology—gathered in Indian Wells, CA, for Demo 2000. If the products showcased there are any indication, the manner in which businesses buy software is in for some big changes during the coming year. As a matter of fact, software as we know it will soon be a thing of the past, leaving one to ponder the effects its demise will have on the IT field.
“Software is dead,” explained Salesforce.com chairman, Marc Benioff, during his company’s Demo 2000 presentation. As producer of a completely Web-based sales force automation solution, Salesforce.com has invested big in the assumption that the traditional model of buying, installing, and supporting enterprise-level software, such as SFA products, is going down for the count. Benioff explained to Demo attendees that he was inspired by Amazon.com’s example as a Web site that provides a complete and satisfactory customer experience without requiring installation, upgrades, and training. This inspiration led him to build a complete SFA solution based on the ASP (application service provider) model, under which the vendor hosts the application, providing access to customers through the Web.
And Salesforce.com wasn’t the only ASP recognized at Demo 2000 as a future star. MS2, Inc. , launched its Accelerate product, a Web site that provides a project management application for companies launching software and Web products. Loudcloud, Inc. , announced plans to provide complete back-end site administration services for major Web companies. Productivity suite providers iAmaze, Inc. , and ThinkFree.com Corporation were also on the bill. Both companies provide Microsoft Office-like (and Microsoft Office-compatible) suites that customers access through Web sites.
“The big thing is anytime, anywhere computing,” said ThinkFree.com president, Ken Rhie. In the demonstration hall, he explained that his company’s Web-based applications allow users to edit data files in an OS-neutral environment, making it an attractive option for developers and administrators running UNIX or Linux. He said they would otherwise have to reboot under Windows to edit data files sent to them by Microsoft Office users. While ThinkFree.com currently offers only a free, advertising-supported version of their productivity applications, Rhie said the company will soon offer a subscription version of its products for businesses, along with technical support services available for a charge.
These emerging ASPs were not the only stars of Demo 2000. Next-generation Web search engines, cutting-edge home networking solutions, new wireless technologies, and “playing-soon-in-your-living-room” Internet appliances generated a lot of applause. A slew of e-commerce services that promised to help vendors deliver a more satisfying shopping experience also drew a great deal of attention. By the end of day two, most audience members were rolling their eyes as presenters began reciting the seemingly obligatory “and that’s how our product will help dot-com vendors increase site stickiness and boost e-commerce revenues” conclusion.
Amidst this abundance of new technologies, however, no product announcements or demos promised to affect the lives of IT professionals like the new Web-based applications—products designed to replace productivity software on the desktop and business solutions across the enterprise. Just as noticeable was the complete absence at Demo 2000 of any type of traditional software products designed for use on a business desktop or network. Microsoft was a presence at the show, but only because of a clever recounting by the company’s Vice President for Developer Marketing, Tod Nielsen, of the company’s history during the 10 years Demo has met. During the conference’s closing panel discussion, Demo newsletter's editor-in-chief, Chris Shipley, wondered whether venture-capital-funded start-ups had taken responsibility for driving innovation from industry giants like Microsoft. Both panel and audience members agreed with her.
The IT job front
Which brings us back to the question of the effect the emergence of paradigm-busting upstarts like Salesforce.com, MS2, Loudcloud, ThinkFree, and iAmaze will have on the lives and careers of IT professionals. Will the outsourcing of support and reductions in physical infrastructure that accompany the ASP model mean fewer IT jobs and reduced responsibility for those who fill them? Or will this shift create unforeseen new opportunities for IT pros?
Tell us what you think by posting a comment below. Next week, we’ll feature some of the most interesting and insightful comments posted in a follow-up article.