Ming the Mechanic:
Software that lasts 200 years

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Software that lasts 200 years2004-07-23 16:12
10 comments
by Flemming Funch

Dan Bricklin writes about software that might last for a really long time.
In many human endeavors, we create infrastructure to support our lives which we then rely upon for a long period of time. We have always built shelter. Throughout most of recorded history, building or buying a home was a major starting step to growing up. This building would be maintained and used after that, often for the remainder of the builder's life span and in many instances beyond. Components would be replaced as they wore out, and the design often took the wear and tear of normal living into account. As needs changed, the house might be modified. In general, though, you thought of a house as having changes measured in decades.

Likewise, human societies also create infrastructure that are built once, then used and trusted for a long period of time. Such infrastructure includes roads, bridges, water and power distribution systems, sewers, seaports and airports, and public recreational areas. These also would be used and maintained without major modifications after they were built, often for many decades or even centuries.

By contrast, software has historically been built assuming that it will be replaced in the near future (remember the Y2K problem). Most developers observe the constant upgrading and replacement of software written before them and follow in those footsteps with their creations.
So, how about if we started building software as infrastructure that was meant to function for a great many years, despite changing conditions? Not that he provides the answers for exactly how to do that, but it is a call to think bigger.

It is not just about the software itself, of course. It is also about the format and media of data for example. A piece of paper can last hundreds of years. A digital CD surprisingly starts rotting within 10 years or so. It seems like we have access to 'everything' on the net and in various databases. But really we only have access to the most recent stuff, that happens to have been made in a recent format that still is popular. Only fairly rarely do we go back and convert the old stuff into the new formats.

Anyway, he specifically calls for the development of an different 'ecosystem' for societal infrastructure software. Certainly makes sense, as our societal infrastructure increasingly is totally dependent on databases and software. Makes the whole foundation of our society kind of shakey if it is based on pieces that stop working after only a few years.


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10 comments

24 Jul 2004 @ 10:46 by Bob Hiltner @208.186.7.149 : Changing capabilities, changing needs...
Taking the time to think things through in terms of design, creating good component, keeping the general engines and controllers separate... these things can extend software longevity and keep things from getting bound up so early.
But the counter factor I see is that it's difficult to span generations with useful technology infrastructure. NASA is using software many generations old, but is also basing things on 4-bit or 8-bit processors--still functional, but might as well be cuneiform. I thing that with 7-year (pick a number) generations of hardware, bandwidth, other capability, that even very well designed systems would be lucky to survive more than 10 years of the downpour of new technologies and demands. Even bridges need repainting every year and resurfacing every 10.

Protocols have spanned generations or hardware and software, but only those that have been very general and simple. The glue and caulk and user interfaces probably will always be like the paint on the bridge.


Maybe it's the glue, caulk and user interaction that is the one that nee  



24 Jul 2004 @ 12:04 by ming : Abstraction
I suppose what could survive changes in technology is something at a higher level of abstraction. Some form of representing business processes, or public database characteristics. Yeah, anything that's stuck with a number of bits or any dependence on partulcar processors and peripherals will not survive.  


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