Daily Archives: May 5, 2004

Mass Assembly of Software

I first wrote about the mass assembly of software in 1995, in a chapter of the Future of Software called “The Keys to the Highway.” We used to call the Internet the Information Superhighway back in the day when Al Gore invented it ;-).
(The title is from a song by Big Bill Broonzy, by the way.)
At the time we were working on a project in the telecom industry called SPIRIT, which was a follow-on to MIA.
We demo’d SPIRIT and STDL on seven different platforms, including HP
(I apologize but Web references to MIA and the Telecom ’95 event are a bit hard to find a decade later.)
The “keys to the highway” are standard APIs across any platform, and an interoperability protocol capable of connecting any platform. Once you have those standards in place — I mean really in place, the idea is that they should enable mass-assembling applications out of interchangeable, multi-sourced “parts” (also known as “services” ;-).
The biggest single cost of IT remains labor. Standards for interchangeable software “parts” could have the same effect on the software industry as they did on the hard goods manufacturing industry, turning it from a craft industry into an automated industry, starting with the Model T, and driving an economic cycle of affordability.
We accomplished it with SPIRIT, at least in demo form, and I managed to get the STDL spec adopted by X/Open (now The Open Group). STDL is a kind of precursor to EJB inasmuch as it abstracted low-level distributed transaction processing details from the developer. It was implemented on top of seven different TP monitors.
We forsaw and proved the concept of a future, and wrote about it, in which applications would be mass assembled instead of craft built. All that’s needed is the equivalent of the threading, tooling, and fastener standards Henry Ford required of his parts suppliers.
However, SPIRIT was all procedure-oriented. Java was not invented when we started the effort ‘way back in 1990; neither was DCOM or CORBA. The software industry was not done innovating yet.
Today the industry is done innovating and is looking toward Web services to finally provide the long sought for solution to get strategic value out of IT investments, automating the production of custom business process flows.
Will the promise finally be realized? Will the right commercial pressure finally be brought to bear? Or will it all collapse on itself, as the software industry tries to cling to outmoded business models and continues to compete on the basis of products rather than on conformance to the standards IT so desperately needs?