Thom's Sine Waves


It's a little off topic, but Adobe's recent move to Creative Cloud actually represents something that's predictable. I've been involved with personal computers from the beginning and spent much of my career in Silicon Valley. Back in the 1970's I observed something that has remained true from the beginning: that computing (and all the bits and pieces that go along with it, including software), goes through sine waves. 

The horizontal axis is time, the vertical access is "centralized" at the top and "decentralized" at the bottom. Mainframes were centralized at the beginning. There was one in a company, and everything went to it and was done by it. Almost perfect centralization. Step forward in time: Minicomputers were distributed computers, and decentralized data and services within companies using them. Suddenly a subsidiary or district office could have it's "own" computing capability. Step forward some more in time: Networking pulled things back towards centralization. Step: Personal computers pulled things back towards decentralization. Step: Local networks, and especially the emergence of the Internet have pulled things back towards centralized. Adobe Creative Cloud is just another start of a pull towards centralization. 

But every time you move one direction very far (centralized, decentralized), it increases the pull in the other direction. So while Creative Cloud and Office 365 and Google Docs are all trying to pull you to centralization, the smart software developer is working on something you own, you control, works the way you want it to, and is much more decentralized and keeps your data local and safe. For every customer that values centralization (and social sites like Facebook are another example), there are other customers that value local control and decentralization. 

Photography practiced as a hobby isn't really something that is particularly demanding of centralization. Just the opposite: you have lots of individuals who want their own digital darkrooms at their beck and call and completely under their control and customization. Image editing as practiced by, say a large ad agency, has demands to pull things towards centralization: commonality of products and data sharing. Adobe makes most of their money from the latter, not the former, so it's not surprising that they think centralization is the best place for them to go. In doing so, however, they just opened the door for a decentralized solution to emerge. What that will be, I don't know. But if I were still managing software firms, I know where I would have been headed.

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