Saturday, December 08, 2007

Resisting the temptation of web services

It's so appealing to move software to a web services remote hosting model.

I lived through that era in the 90s. Among other things, we discovered that the internet fell a few orders of magnitude sort of the optimistic predictions of 1990. (We were all supposed to have fiber to the desktop by 2000.)

Joel Spolsky (over 40,000 subscribers on Bloglines alone, millions of readers) reminds us why a new generation should think twice about abandoning installed software (emphases mine):
Where there's muck, there's brass - Joel on Software

... For us, the installable option gives us five times the sales. It costs us an extra salary or two (in tech support costs). It also means we have to use Wasabi, which has some serious disadvantages compared to off-the-shelf programming languages, but which we found to be the most cost-effective and efficient way, given our code base, to ship software that is installable on Windows, Linux, and Mac. Boy, I would love nothing more than to scrap installable FogBugz and run everything on our servers... we've got racks and racks of nice, well-managed Dell servers with plenty of capacity and our tech support costs for the hosted version are zero. Life would be much easier. But we'd be making so much less money we'd be out of business.

The one thing that so many of today's cute startups have in common is that all they have is a simple little Ruby-on-Rails Ajax site that has no barriers to entry and doesn't solve any gnarly problems. So many of these companies feel insubstantial and fluffy, because, out of necessity (the whole company is three kids and an iguana), they haven't solved anything difficult yet. Until they do, they won't be solving problems for people. People pay for solutions to their problems...

Actually, people often pay for dreams unrelated to their real problems, but that's another story. (Informed customers are a blessing, but in some domains they are rare.)

One day, the web services dream might work. In the meantime, my prior DSL service was unavailable at least once a week...

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