Under Control


What do you mean by the "demise of software?"

Software will not go away. The phrase "demise of software" simply means that the bloom is off the rose. Software mystery and magic will soon disappear from the terrain of intellectual investigation. The same thing happened not the many years ago when the electric motor labs were dismantled. In the 1800's motors were imbued with sense of wonder, and vise-presidents concerned with standards, central single motors, or distributed power were the rage.

Electric motors have not gone away. And neither have candles or horses. But our intellectual fascination with them as unexplainable objects is not as close to the surface as it once was. We can expect that in 20 years, the care and feeding of software will be such that it won't need to be extensively taught in the universities.

Talk about manufacturing at the point of consumption

Historically, carbon units (humans) have located manufacturing efforts at the point of raw material - smelters at ore deposits, refining at oil fields, and pottery kilns near sources of clay. Large manufacturing facilities have been located based on labor availability considerations. Location at the source, not at the point of need, has been the paradigm.

Recently, in the paleontological sense, our society has become consumption constrained, as opposed to production constrained. As a result, how we think about production and consumption will change. We must locate innovative replication facilities of one unit with zero defects. Zero inventory is the result. Enabling technologies are desktop manufacturing and the Internet.

In fact, teleoperations will allow companies to ship a virtual product - i.e., the information needed to manufacture - rather than the real one.

Talking this idea to its limits, strawberries will be brown in the supermarket, automobiles assembled at the dealer, and perfect-fit jeans sewn at the clothier. This may seem farfetched at this point, but the trend is clear. Desktop publishing , Turbotax, and L.L.Bean are all examples of changes being wrought in the wresting process.

The manufacturer of the next millennium will either have distributed physical facilities at point of consumption or make extensive use of specialized express services. Assembly performance at the airport or trucking warehouse will become commonplace. Product design will in large part be governed by replication and distribution considerations. Even pharmaceuticals will be tailored to the individual. THe automated drugstore will arrive hard on the heels of the World Wide Web.

The term bandwidth seems to mean different things to different people.

Once many humans learned to read and write, the oral tradition of the great memorizers was replaced by the medium of pen and paper, offering greater flexibility in design. The publishing industry perfected distribution via high-speed physical conveyances, so great was the need for information.

Now, electronically, it takes but seconds to send a page from one side of the nation to the other. The rate at which you can transmit the page, however, is determined by bandwidth. The number of letters per minute, the number of bits per hour, or the numbers of cycles per second, are all mechanisms of bandwidth.

We can decode, calculate, word process, and work in color over long distances. Computers now have, for all intents and purposes, infinite capacity. The wire connecting the two computers, however, is narrow and constrictive. It cannot transmit all the codes in one computer to another computer in less than an hour or two.

We can expect in the near future that there will be an 100 times increase in the channel width among computers worldwide. This will eliminate all the electronic hesitation and puts the lag in communications back where it belongs... in our own heads.

Still greater changes are in store for software, manufacturing, and communications over the next several decades. THe winners will be those who embrace what's staring us in the face. Good luck.

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine April 1996 Page 104

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