Please excuse my gushy, fawning posts about Xero in recent days, I’m sure that I’ll settle down eventually and get all fair and balanced about Xero soon. But for now I am an old world software guy on a personal journey to the world of online software and feel compelled to ‘share’ my individual revelations and observations. In public.
When people compare SaaS or Cloud Computing applications with their classic counterparts, I imagine the main differentiating factors that always spring to mind first are things like high accessibility, pay-as-you-go pricing and mild security concerns, although the latter is on the wane as attitudes towards online security mature. But speaking as an ex old-world-software exec, one aspect that’s possibly overlooked more than it ought to be is the ease with which updates, bug fixes and new features just quietly appear with little or no fuss.
Alongside developing and testing new software releases, traditional software companies have always had the additional operational overheads of mass duplication, packaging and shipping potentially thousands of CDs (or, latterly, zipped downloads) and the associated documentation to customers. And that’s the easy part. Depending on the design or complexity of the application and the relative impact of the patch or update, there’s often also quite a burden on users to carefully schedule and apply the update – after taking extra care to safeguard their data, document designs and other customisations – and in some cases incurring the additional cost of a consultant to ensure everything goes well.
All of this adds up to a situation where software companies choose (or, rather, are forced) to chunk-up releases and accumulate stacks of non-critical patches and updates to attempt to mitigate all this effort and disruption as much as possible.
If my personal experiences of using Xero are anything to go by, aside from a couple of hours of Sunday downtime once a month and a politely discreet dialog box highlighting any changes and new features, the way online software is maintained, improved and updated is quite remarkably unremarkable.