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The Evolution of Software Delivery January 25, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software development.
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This could alternatively be titled “Is Desktop Software Dead?” I’ll start at the beginning. Circa 2000, we delivered software in 12-18 month increments. It was desktop software, intended to debug and test Windows (and Java) applications, and manufactured and delivered on CDs and DVDs (don’t laugh; back then, even Microsoft delivered its MSDN entirely on DVD).

Our customer thought we delivered new versions too quickly. It took too long to install software on individual machines, and they didn’t want to do it that often. For the most part, they wanted to upgrade when Windows changed or Visual Studio changed, not when we wanted to push out new software.

Circa 2010, I attended a talk given by Kent Beck, in which he described how software delivery was speeding up over time. He examined how software testing and delivery would change as we accelerated to quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even daily deliveries. And he delivered this entire talk without once using the word agile.

There is a key factor missing in this story. That is that the type of software we produced for desktop computers ten years ago is no longer relevant. Sure, I still run MS Office, but that’s more of a reflex action. I could be using Google Docs, or Open Office, or something like that. The relevant software today is web, or mobile, or some hybrid of either or both that may also put something on my laptop.

In other words, the nature of software had changed. When we had to physically install it on individual computers, delivery was an annoyance for the users, to be avoided (tell me about it). They ultimately didn’t want our upgrades unless they absolutely needed them.

Today, for users, whether they are businesses or consumers, delivery has to be invisible. And, as Kent Beck described, done much more rapidly, perhaps almost instantaneously.

There are some tradeoffs to this model. There may be new features that could be difficult or unintuitive to use, and require instruction and training.

And it poses challenges for software teams. Agile and DevOps addresses some of these challenges, but delivery is an entirely different ballgame. Teams have to be able to quickly assess the quality of the updates and be able to roll back if need be. There has to be communications between IT operations and dev and test in order to make this happen.

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