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Monday, October 17, 2011

Skimming : From Airline Reservation to Sonic The Hedgehog

From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry (History of Computing)


  • The software industry can be divided into three sectors: software contracting, corporate software products, and mass-market software products. (p.3)
  • Though there was no shortage of applicants, less than one-fourth passed through the initial screening and secured a job offer. The screening consisted of a three-day battery of psychological and mental aptitude tests that proved to be a fair predictor of programming ability. (p.39)
  • Contemporary estimates indicate that between 200 and 300 US insurance companies eventually used the package, many with multiple 1401s. Increasingly, users were becoming aware of the advantage of making their operations conform to an available package, rather than making a package conform to their historical bureaucratic idiosyncrasies. Only the biggest firms, such as Prudential, could still justify the assertion that they liked to do things their own way. (p.98)
  • Autoflow is better viewed as simply one example of an idea that was occurring more or less simultaneously to many people in many places. The only common traits among these individuals were an entrepreneurial streak and experience in the computer industry. (p.101)
  • Whereas videogame consoles were bought for a single purpose, home computers were bought for a variety of uses: for home offices, for small businesses, for educational purposes, and so on. But in practice most home computers ended up with game playing as their principal use. Games accounted for about 60 percent of home computer software sales. (p.276)
  • Even a hit game usually had a market life of less than a year, whereas a word processor or a spreadsheet program had an indefinitely long life and provided a constant source of upgrade fees. Hence, the appropriate business model for a producer of videogames was closer to that of the recorded-music industry than to that of the personal computer software industry. (p.281)
  • In 1986, Super Mario Bros. 3 reportedly grossed $500 million, more than any
    Hollywood film apart from Spielberg’s E.T. (p.285)
  • Interestingly, for the PlayStation there was no “killer app” comparable to Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog. Though games such as Virtua Fighter and Tomb Raider (Lara Croft) sold in the millions for the PlayStation, they were also available for other platforms. The PlayStation succeeded because Sony recognized the changing demographics of videogamers. The videogame enthusiasts of the 1980s—the 6-to-14-year-old males who had grown up with Ataris, Colecos, and Nintendos—were now in their mid twenties, with spending power far greater than an adolescent’s. (p.288)
  • Printed encyclopedias had never really sold on the basis of content; their sales had been based on intangible prestige and authority—values not highly appreciated in the world of multimedia CD-ROMs. (p.294)
  • Nonetheless, if one wants to emulate the success of another institution, history is usually all one has to go on. Though history cannot provide prescriptions, it can certainly provide insights (p.303)
  • Proportionately, the R&D spending of software companies is comparable to that of the pharmaceutical industry; however, R&D plays markedly different roles in these two industries. In the pharmaceutical industry, much of the R&D takes place in university and industrial research laboratories, and field trials are directed by PhD-qualified scientists. In the software industry, most of the R&D is done by youthful programmers, usually not trained past the bachelor’s degree level, who crank out code in an intuitive but effective fashion—R&D with a small r and a large D. (p.308)
  • Manpower training has been a major strategy of such emerging software nations as India and Ireland. However, the evidence so far suggests that it is likely to result in an industry performing “off-shore” software development for the benefit of US-based multinational corporations. This is a new variant of the old business of “body shopping”, not the rise of a leading-edge software products industry. (p.311)