Welcome 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 addresses a notion near and dear to New Relic—the idea that every company is a software company, whether they realize it or not.
TWiMS Top Story:
You Don’t Have to Be a Software Company to Think Like One—Harvard Business Review
What it’s about: If you don’t think every business is a software business, it’s time to go back to school. In a new Harvard Business Review essay, U.C. Irvine professor and Founding Director of the Center for Digital Transformation Vijay Gurbaxani explains why and how all businesses must start thinking like software companies—or risk getting trampled by the competition in the digital age. “You may be thinking: but my company isn’t a software company,” Gurbaxani writes. “That may be the case, but the current business environment requires all leaders to view their companies as software businesses—and think like software executives.” He kicks off with a short list of fundamental software strategy questions all business leaders must ask, including “What do you do uniquely well and what do you know how to do that your competitors do not?”
Why you should care: New Relic founder and CEO Lew Cirne has long maintained that every business is a software business, and Gurbaxani offers tangible ways for companies in any industry to put that mantra into practice. For example, Gurbaxani stresses the importance of taking what you do uniquely well and considering it in a software and platform context. “The big opportunity here stems from identifying which of your company’s unique capabilities can be built into a software layer that can then be made available at scale over digital platforms,” he writes. Gurbaxani points to Nordstrom’s Personal Book point-of-sale application, which transformed the company’s already well-known customer service into a scalable software platform that integrates with its customer database. Skeptical business leaders should keep reading: Gurbaxani explains the power of software thinking in terms any executive can embrace: “Software platforms have incredibly attractive economics.… They amplify the value embedded in the software layer by making it easier to increase reach and scope. They support profitable growth: a business can deliver margins that increase with scale as it adds each new user to the platform at modest incremental cost.”
What it’s about: If you think virtual reality is just the next fodder for the Great Tech Hype Machine, you’d be forgiven—but you might change your view after reading Kevin Kelly’s in-depth feature for WIRED on the past, present, and future of VR. Kelly spent five months with mysterious yet insanely hot startup Magic Leap and a slew of other players and technologies in the VR/MR world. His piece includes a deep dive into Magic Leap’s mixed reality—virtual experiences that overlay reality rather than (temporarily) replacing it altogether. “Experience” is the operative word here: Kelly calls it “the new currency of VR and MR,” one that will ultimately replace the currency of the internet. That, according to Kelly, could propel newcomers like Magic Leap into being big players. “Technologies like Magic Leap’s will enable us to generate, transmit, quantify, refine, personalize, magnify, discover, share, reshare, and over-share experiences,” Kelly writes. “This shift from the creation, transmission, and consumption of information to the creation, transmission, and consumption of experience defines this new platform.”
Why you should care: Like Jeff Goodell’s recent two-part feature on AI for Rolling Stone, Kelly’s piece on Magic Leap and VR is a thoughtful, perceptive, in-depth look at the state of the technology and its implications. There’s a reason why companies like Google, Facebook, and Samsung are investing so heavily here. While Cardboard or Oculus Rift have been earning ink, Kelly credits Magic Leap, a famously secretive South Florida startup, as possessing perhaps the most advanced technology for creating artificial visual experiences. Kelly describes these experiences as being very real and evocative, even in Magic Leap’s prototype phase, and suggests that we’re about to enter a phase of hyper-growth and improvement in VR (and MR). One of the more interesting observations from his five-month review: “The best experiences I had in VR or MR involved at least one other person,” Kelly writes, adding that VR/MR is a the-more-the-merrier proposition. “VR will be the most social medium yet. More social than social media is today,” he predicts.
What it’s about: On the heels of last week’s data on falling personal computer shipments, chip-making giant Intel on Tuesday announced a public goodbye to the PC era as it repositions itself as a cloud and Internet of Things company: “Intel Corporation today announced a restructuring initiative to accelerate its evolution from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices.” The move includes a massive restructuring that will include reducing its workforce by 12,000 employees, or 11% of its current headcount.
Why you should care: As WIRED’s Cade Metz notes, Intel is the dominant chipmaker in both the cloud and traditional data centers, but hasn’t found the same traction in mobile. With PC sales continuing to decline, cloud represents a logical and lucrative next chapter. With spending on cloud infrastructure set to surge nearly 19% this year to $38.2 billion and 12.5% annually for the next five years—reaching $57.8 billion in 2020 according to recent IDC data—cloud represents a good bet for revenue growth in the foreseeable future. The move may also be a tacit acknowledgement that Intel missed the mobile train; WIRED’s Metz notes the company’s announcement did not mention the word “mobile.”
- Why Intel Is Laying Off Thousands of Workers—Time
- Intel Axes 12,000 Jobs As It Seeks to Break Away From PCs—Computerworld
- Intel to Cut 12,000 Jobs, Focus on Cloud—The Wall Street Journal (Paywall)
- As Intel Shifts Its Focus to the Cloud, It Commands Its PC Products to Fight—or Die—PCWorld
- Cloud Takes Top Spot at EMC, SAP, and Intel Quarterly Announcements—BCN
- Intel Announces Restructuring Initiative to Accelerate Transformation—Intel Newsroom
Hacking Your Phone—60 Minutes
What it’s about: 60 Minutes on Sunday aired a segment that’s a must-watch for anyone with a smartphone. In “Hacking Your Phone,” CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi travels to Berlin, Germany, for an inside look at a team of security researchers and hackers led by Karsten Nohl, who earned his Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Virginia. To show just how vulnerable mobile devices and networks are, the show sent an off-the-shelf iPhone to Congressman Ted Lieu, who agreed to use the device as part of the segment. Alfonsi called Lieu at that iPhone from Berlin, and Nohl’s team was able to hack in and listen to both ends of the call immediately, with no information other than the number of Lieu’s iPhone. Nohl explained that he used a flaw in Signaling System 7 (SS7) to get access. After hanging up with Lieu; Alfonsi traveled to Las Vegas, where Lookout co-founder John Hering demonstrated a variety of other mobile phone hacks: he set up a spoof of the hotel’s WiFi network and when Alfonsi connected, within seconds Hering was reading her email and quickly accessed her Uber account, including all associated credit card accounts.
Why you should care: This hits a lot closer to home than the Apple/FBI argument over cracking a passcode: “You’ve probably been warned to be careful about what you say and do on your phone,” Alfonsi says, “but after you see what we found, you won’t need to be warned again.” While some of Hering’s demonstrated hacks—including watching a video stream of Alfonsi in her hotel using her smartphone’s camera—required social engineering or other human error, the SS7 hack is particularly damning: Nohl tracked Lieu’s whereabouts for as long as he used the phone, regardless of any choices Lieu made: device, mobile carrier, apps, GPS, and so forth. (From a security standpoint, Nohl tells Alfonsi: “All phones are the same.”) When Alfonsi played back a recording of an official business call, Lieu called it “creepy” and said it angered him. That could be because the SS7 flaw has been known in the security and intelligence communities for quite some time; according to Alfonsi the latter group isn’t too eager to have that flaw fixed. Hering did note that most people won’t be subject to these kinds of attacks, but warned that “We live in a world where we can’t trust the technology that we use.”
The Minecraft Generation—The New York Times Magazine
What it’s about: A New York Times Magazine feature profiles the transformational success of Minecraft. Just seven years after its release, Minecraft is the third-best-selling video game of all time with 100 million registered users, many of them children. But as Clive Thompson writes about the Minecraft phenomenon, “It doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together…. Minecraft encourages kids to get under the hood, break things, fix them and turn mooshrooms into random-number generators. It invites them to tinker.” Minecraft is providing the first meaningful entry point into modern software for legions of children.
Why you should care: First of all, this is a fascinating read, and not just of interest to Minecraft devotees and their parents. (Don’t be fooled, you don’t need to be a kid to play Minecraft. Microsoft, which bought Minecraft developer Mojang for $2.5 billion, pegs the average player at somewhere between 28 and 29 years old, according to the Times piece.) In fact, the story will resonate with software developers: Unlike today’s ubiquitous point-and-click interfaces, Minecraft teaches children and other players “what computer coders know and wrestle with every day, which is that programs rarely function at first: The work isn’t so much in writing a piece of software but in debugging it, figuring out what you did wrong and coming up with a fix,” writes Thompson, who notes that Minecraft has become a perfect, albeit unintentional, computer science learning tool. “Minecraft, rather audaciously, includes a command line and requires players to figure it out,” Thompson notes. “Complex commands require a player to master chains of sophisticated command-line syntax.”
What it’s about: The internet paused just about everything else on its agenda on Thursday to pay tribute to musical legend Prince, who died on Thursday at the age of 57 in his Paisley Park recording studio in Minnesota. His one-of-a-kind career inspired generations and intersected with plenty of areas beyond music—including technology—as evident in the outpouring of online tributes and commentaries that began soon after the news of his death went public. While Prince once declared “the internet is completely over”—the Purple One even famously quit the internet in 2014—he was far from anti-tech. It’s just that his approach to technology, like everything else about him, was truly his own.
Why you should care: Prince’s massively successful career both preceded and spanned the massive changes in music and technology since the 1980s. He didn’t follow the crowd—we’re talking about Prince, people—and he certainly wasn’t all-in on the digital age. But as Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff noted, he wasn’t a Luddite, either. Jon Caramanica at the New York Times writes that Prince “understood how technology spread ideas better than almost anyone else in popular music.” His Purpleness was even at the forefront of some trends: AdWeek’s Christopher Heine recalls Prince selling the three-CD set Crystal Ball online back in 1997; to get your copy, you had to dial 1-800-New-Funk. USA Today recaps his involvement with #YesWeCode, whose mission is to help teach 100,000 underprivileged children the skills necessary to launch a technology career.
There have been some lighter “Prince and tech” memories, too, such as when he sent magazines floppy disks with a custom font to be able to print the symbol that once replaced his name. Prince also conducted an interview in 2001 with the Omaha World-Herald via email and fax machine. And, in spite of his own on-again, off-again feelings about the internet, the torrent of online tributes is likely to inspire new generations who haven’t listened to much of his music to give the legend a try. For starters, they can watch Prince drop (well, throw) the guitar after his epic solo during a rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Prince, a Master of Playing Music and Distributing It—New York Times
- Prince Had a Legendary Love/Hate Relationship With Technology—Mashable
- Prince’s Twitter Icon Has Become an Instant Tribute to the Late Artist—The Next Web
- Internet Sheds Tears of ‘Purple Rain’ for Prince—CNET
- Prince Was a Tech Innovator Who Doesn’t Always Get Credit for His Early Commitment to Digital—AdWeek
- Prince Remembered as an Innovator, Advocate for Black Youth—USA Today
- The Time Prince Sent Magazines Floppy Disks With a Custom Font for His Symbol—New York Magazine
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Can’t get enough modern software news and commentary? Be sure to check out our Modern Software Podcast. New Relic Editor-in-Chief Fredric Paul and guests discuss the most important things happening in the world of software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and more. Listen to episode 11 or subscribe on iTunes.