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Pure software

During Charlie Rose’s PBS televised discussion last week on the subject of Apple’s new iPad, New York Times’ business columnist David Carr’s opening remarks (around 4:00 minutes in) about his experience of using an iPad struck a chord with me:

“…what you’ve got to understand is this gadget [the iPad] disappears pretty quickly, you’re looking into pure software..”

What I think Carr meant was that that when you first pick up an iPad, you quickly and imperceptibly transition from the initial physicality of the iPad hardware directly into a mode of using and intuitively manipulating its software applications. Indeed, it’s taken quite a while for hardware and all its archaic quirks, settings and scheduled maintenance rituals to finally get out of the way and let software take centre stage.

But it’s Carr’s notion of “pure software” that’s the most interesting part for me.Software used to articulate itself very physically; whether represented on punch cards or stored on floppy or optical media, or because we were forced to engage with it through the medium of big old metal boxes, whirring fans and clackety keyboards. Using software was a physical experience; you could literally touch it. And even once it had moved beyond its physical stored form and was installed onto its host hardware, it then happily spewed its virtual contents back out again into the real world carried upon of forests worth of printer paper.

That is to say that with software there has always been something physical, something other than the software application that you needed to accommodate before you could make the best, fullest use of the actual software itself as its designer had first envisioned.

Or put more simply, we have become habitually used to a generally low-ball software experience; one that has always come pre-packaged with inbuilt compromise simply because of the physicality of the hardware required to project it into our brains.

So, the concept of an emerging new species of software, “pure software” as Carr put it, with apparently super-hero abilities to make hardware and the need to physically engage with a device just simply vanish, strongly resonates in my mind when I think about the future directions in which software design could go.

And the resulting feeling I get doesn’t sit a million miles away from the feelings I get about some of the early capabilities we’ve recently built into Xero. Not least in the example of the capability to have Xero spark into life at 1am (or any time of your choosing for that matter), automatically pick up and process your monthly billings into your accounts and then automatically email the invoices directly to every one of your clients.

All while you are fast asleep in bed, while your PC is switched off and no trees were harmed in this process.

By old-world-of-software standards, that’s pretty magical.

Does this mean that Xero is Pure Software? It’s debatable. But it’s going to be a lot of fun proving the theory.

 

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3 comments

Adrian Pearson
11 February 2010 #

If you arrived from a distant galaxy and looked around most office environments (via the super tech of your flying saucer) what would you think? Maybe, “why are all these humans slavishly worshipping the square-screen gods on their desk”?

When the PC first emerged in the eighties, I envisaged a time soon when, like so many Sci-Fi programes on the telly suggested, we would have computers doing our work for us. Of course, we understand a different reality – one where computers are tools to help us, but are useless without us.

Where are my ramblings going with this? Well, yes, “pure software” takes of part of the way there, in that the hardware is now getting out of the way, but we need more. We need technology to work without us being involved at all.

So, when I can sign up to Xero and then let it run my accounts without any human help then I have found the Holy Grail. There’s a challenge for you!

Gary Turner
11 February 2010 #

Leave it with us, Adrian. Check back in a week or so. :)

Sean Hoyt
16 February 2010 #

Xero on the iPad would be great… if you can circumvent the Flash chasm.

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