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SaaS (software as a service); the future of computing?

I was listing to the lectures for UC Berkeley's CS 169 (Software Engineering Course) off ITunes University, and I was a little surprised about the instructors vision of the future of computing.

They stated the belief that in 10 years, nearly all computing will done as a service. As such, the course focused exclusively on SaaS via agile development using ruby on rails.


The idea is that "shrink wrapped software", that is downloaded and installed on a machine, will die. All computing will be done by remote application servers, owned or rented by service providers. User will pay for subscriptions to services.

Users would no longer need personal computing power. Personal computers would be replaced by little more than network interfaces with displays. This would enable users to purchase really cheap hardware, but would lock them into paying monthly fees to use it.

It would solve a few problems in the software industry: pirating/DRM, users sticking comfortably with old software (steady predictable income).

Personally I think it's a little frightening. Firstly, it would be extremely difficult for a small time developer to run a successful SaaS setup without a very large amount of startup money. Second, the big guys already have the connections, infrastructure and code base to provide the masses with SaaS, and it would be extremely difficult to compete with that.

I think that certain types of software would work great as a service; mostly software that fulfills certain needs of businesses, especially stuff that requires large amounts of hardware/storage and maintenance.

I personally have some doubt that SaaS will one day completely dominate consumer software consumption. I wouldn't prefer it myself. It certainly wouldn't work well for all software needs.

I hate the idea of needing to be connected to the internet to use a piece of software. I hate the idea of my software being updated constantly without my consent, or knowledge of the changes made. I hate the idea of all my data being sent over a network. But, I can see how a lot of people could buy into. If you can't afford a real computer, but you can afford a cheap device that comes with a free trial period of services...

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I personally would hate such a setup myself as well. It introduces a dependance on a fast, reliable internet connection, monthly fees and all kinds of security issues. For example, if I setup an FTP server on my computer and told people that they could store all of their financial information on it, no one in their right mind would take me up on my offer. But when a company does it, everyone hails it as the next big thing (obviously the information is "safe" and not visible to the company employees, but it's still a security issue as well as principle). With the current direction of computing, however, it isn't hard to believe. Network speeds would have to increase greatly for such a solution to be feasible for larger programs, like Multisim or Inventor though. This isn't a problem for 95% of the idiots users who use their computers for nothing other than Facebook and looking at pictures of cats. You could even argue it's already the norm because of the amounts of mobile users whose devices (mostly tablets and smart phones) are all mostly cloud based anyways. I don't think high end user hardware will ever go away though, it will just become rare. I really doubt "a network interface with a display" can run Skyrim on ultra mode.
Lag in a single-player "offline" game :O That would be frustrating
Its like we don't own what we have anymore.
Firstly, it would be extremely difficult for a small time developer to run a successful SaaS setup without a very large amount of startup money.

That would be were Platform as a service (PaaS) comes in.

Personally I hate the idea of moving everything to the cloud.
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