This Week in Modern Software logoWelcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly analysis of the most interesting and important news, stories, and events in the world of modern software and analytics.

This week, our top story covers all the news pouring out of Google’s annual I/O developer conference.


TWiMS Top Story:
Everything Google Announced at Its I/O Conference—Quartz

What it’s about: Even as Google’s annual I/O developer conference headed south from San Francisco to Mountain View this year, the barrage of announcements and analysis moved along with it. The key themesstop us if you’ve heard this beforeunderpinning the show included machine learning, AI, chatbots, virtual reality, mobile, cloud … you get the picture. Quartz has a good summary of the major news, including Google Assistant, its (somewhat late) entry in the intelligent assistant/chatbot race, which will include the new messaging and video-chat apps Allo and Duo; Android N, the next version of the mobile OS; enhancements to Google’s Firebase mobile development platform, including broader integration with other Google Cloud Platform services; the Google Home device, which will go head-to-head with Amazon Echo; and a slew of other announcements. Google also renewed its interest in the enterprise, but some observers thought the proof was MIA.

Why you should care: You might notice something about many of these debuts, though: They don’t sound particularly new. In an exclusive sitdown with CNET, Google CEO Sundar Pichai bristles at the notion that the company is following the pack with many of its I/O announcements. But he also owns it: “It’s important to understand we weren’t the first company in search,” Pichai tells CNET’s Richard Nieva and Connie Guglielmo. “Larry and Sergey did search because they saw a chance to do something different.” As Nieva and Guglielmo point out, that approach has worked pretty well for Google in email, maps, and browsers, too. Now, it appears Google is applying the same logic to the newest tectonic shifts in tech, from AI assistants to virtual reality to smart home hubs. Where will Google get its edge in this next wave of tech, regardless of whether it’s first, last, or somewhere in between? CNET’s interview and a slew of coverage and analysis this week makes it pretty clear: Google is betting the bulk of its empire on machine learning and AI. 

Further reading:


Oracle v. Google, and the End of Programming as We Know ItComputerworld

boxing ring: this week in modern softwareWhat it’s about: Oracle v. Google is the protracted copyright and patent battle over Google’s use of Java—specifically, 37 Java APIs—in its enormously successful Android operating system. The latest chapter in this six-year case continued this week in a federal court in San Francisco, hinging on whether Google’s use of the APIs constitutes “fair use,” or whether the company violated patents and copyrights that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems, Java’s original developer, back in 2010. Oracle lost its patent claim, but the copyright case continues to drag on. A district court initially ruled that APIs were not copyrightable, but a federal appeals court later overturned the decision. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, returning the fight to the lower courts, and here we are.

Why you should care: There’s a great deal at stake for the future of software development. Over at Computerworld, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols doesn’t mince words: The future of programming rests on whether fair use rules apply to APIs: “If programmers made up the jury, Oracle wouldn’t stand a chance,” Vaughan-Nichols writes. “They know that APIs should be open or at least freely usable under fair use. But instead of programmers, clueless users who can’t tell an API from an Apple iPhone will be making the decision.” The issue, according to Vaughan-Nichols and other observers, is that “Open APIs, along with open source, revolutionized the software industry. They’ve enabled developers to easily create applications on top of both open-source and proprietary programs. Today’s software economy lives and dies on open APIs.” A win for Oracle here could threaten all that.

Further reading:


Soon We Won’t Program Computers. We’ll Train Them Like DogsWIRED

What it’s about: The June cover of WIRED’s print edition should get your attention, as it trumpets “/*the end of code*/” and “what this means for us.” Jason Tanz’s story, published online under a different headline, explores the current and future impacts of machine learning and AI on programming. The premise: “If in the old view programmers were like gods, authoring the laws that govern computer systems, now they’re like parents or dog trainers. And as any parent or dog owner can tell you, that is a much more mysterious relationship to find yourself in.” No, code isn’t actually “ending,” at least not any time soon. But as Android creator Andy Rubin and other luminaries tell Tanz, it will be fundamentally changed by the rise of machine learning and AI—with far-reaching impacts on the skills and profession of software development.

Why you should care: There are big technical, economic, and cultural issues at stake here. Among others: Is our recent obsession with STEM education in the United States—and especially with teaching kids to code—training generations of people for jobs that may not exist? What’s the point of dropping thousands of dollars on a coding bootcamp if the languages you’ll learn will soon be obsolete, or at least less useful on the job market? There’s already been plenty of attention on the broader job market implications of AI and related developments, but Tanz’s piece points out that software developers themselves might soon be affected as well. This isn’t a doom-and-gloom story, though, but rather a glimpse of reality. Code isn’t actually going away; it’s just going to play a different role. “In the future,” Tanz writes, “we won’t concern ourselves as much with the underlying sources of [machine] behavior; we’ll learn to focus on the behavior itself. The code will become less important than the data we use to train it.” If you write software, a story dubbed “the end of code” could seem apocalyptic click-bait, but this is a valuable, thought-provoking read.

Further reading:


When Websites Won’t Take No for an AnswerThe New York Times

What it’s about: User experience design is at least in part an exercise in cognitive and behavioral science. On one hand, it’s about being “user friendly” and enabling people to do what they want do with your website or app. But it’s also about encouraging people to do what you want them to do, whether that’s make a purchase, click on an ad, subscribe to a newsletter, or any other user action. That tension defines the difference between a great user experience and a manipulative or even “evil” one, a distinction that Natasha Singer explores for The New York Times.

punch computer: this week in modern softwareWhy you should care: We like to say that “life’s too short for bad software,” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of it out there. Software can be designed to misbehave in myriad ways, from hiding relevant information to adding extra fees right before you make an online purchase to making it virtually impossible to cancel a service or purchase. A growing number of UX experts, advertisers, and other stakeholders contend that manipulative or unethical app practices do long-term damage to brand integrity and consumer trust. (Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, I’m deleting your app.)

But there’s plenty of ambiguity here: Singer notes that “persuasive design” practices that encourage people to do things for the public good might be just OK, but using the same practices to get someone to book a hotel room? Not so much. For example, persuasive design practices that benefit both consumer and business, such as the ubiquitous refer-a-friend program offering freebies or credits in exchange for a customer lead, fall under Singer’s “OK” category. Yet LinkedIn had to pay $14 million to settle a lawsuit over how its site encouraged users to share their contacts. In most cases, though, unless you’re doing something illegal, no one polices this territory—except for customers who leave because your app won’t accept “no” for an answer. So devs and designers—and app owners and product managers, etc.—have to make smart choices, balancing short-term gains against the risk of alienating users.


Microsoft and SAP’s Cloud Computing Platforms to InteroperateBloomberg

What it’s about: Microsoft, like many other tech firms, keeps on knocking down walls around its empire. The company issued a joint announcement with SAP that the enterprise titans will expand their existing partnership, enabling SAP HANA applications and data analysis tools to run on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, including SAP S/4HANA apps, in lieu of requiring licenses to run HANA on on-premises servers. The companies will also offer tighter integrations between their cloud apps. Bloomberg notes, for example, that Office 365 users will soon be able to use SAP’s Concur software for travel and expense management without leaving Microsoft Outlook.

Why you should care: The modern software age is enabling—and perhaps necessitating—better integration of some of the biggest platforms and applications in business, regardless of who built them. The closed ecosystem seems to be a dying breed, and that’s a good thing for the organizations and users who want choice, not homogeneity. As CIO Journal’s Steve Rosenbush sums up, deals like the Microsoft-SAP partnership reflect a broader shift in focus: Vendors must spend less time worrying about products and competitors and focus more intensively on their customers. “Once, companies focused to a greater extent on products. But what is a product, anyway, in a mobile and data-intensive world in which things change so fast? Companies no longer race to keep up with one another, so much as they race to keep up with the customer.”

Further reading:


Foxy Leicester City FC Won Premiership With Data

soccer fox: this week in modern softwareWhat it’s about: It is an upset of historic proportions, up there with Milan High School (later fictionalized in the movie Hoosiers) and 1980’s “Miracle on Ice”: Leicester City won the Barclays Premier League Championship. Just a few short years ago, the club wasn’t good enough to even qualify for England’s top soccer league; now, it’s the reigning champion. And while last week was all about the achievement on the pitch, this week’s Simon Creasey reveals a big part of the Leicester City’s success: data analytics. Creasey writes, “When you take a closer look behind the scenes at how the club operates, Leicester’s triumphant campaign isn’t that surprising. That’s because when it comes to the use of football data analytics and sports science, the club is one of the most advanced in the Premier League.”

Why you should care: The intersection of sports and analytics is an increasingly popular topic, from baseball to basketball and beyond. But the Leicester City story reminds us that success requires not just embracing data analytics, but doing so in the right way. Sure, the organization uses the latest and greatest technologies in everything from wearables and performance monitoring to data mining and analysis, but its efforts wouldn’t be nearly as valuable if data analytics wasn’t part of the organization’s DNA: “Data is embedded into the culture of the club,” Creasey writes. For example, Leicester City players received interactive pre- and post-match reports from the club’s performance team on individual iPads. The team has even built a specialized analysis room in its home stadium for delivering data reports at halftime. This is a story that’s as much for data nerds as it is for soccer nuts.

Further reading:


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Boxing ring, punched computer, and soccer fox images courtesy of

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a wide variety of publications and companies. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek story, “Are You Too Old for IT?” He’s also a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. View posts by .

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