A decade ago, it wasn’t unusual to go into an electronics store and see computer software for sale – programs for creatives, productivity software, even operating systems needed to be purchased at retail and manually installed onto your computer.
In the years since, however, internet connections and data infrastructure have become fast and reliable enough that instead of choosing to ship a boxed product to retail, many companies now offer their products through a direct-to-consumer subscription model.
What are the key differences between traditional boxed software offerings and software-as-a-service?
For years, Microsoft Office and several of its constituent programs were available as boxed software. While these programs are always a good investment, use of this model meant that products would often be retired in favour of others; for example, Office 2003 was replaced by Office 2007, which in turn was replaced by Office 2010.
To use the features of the latest update, you would need to purchase and install it, with no guarantee that your previous files would be compatible.
In comparison, the software-as-a-service model takes advantage of digital distribution. In exchange for a fixed monthly or yearly fee, you always have access to the latest version. Think of it as like Netflix, but for computer programs – as long as you’re subscribed, you’ll have access to the latest releases, and there is no upfront cost.
No Need for Additional Hardware
As boxed software is a physical product, it also needs certain computer hardware to install. Floppy disk drives were standard inclusions for years, but as the format became obsolete, manufacturers stopped adding them. While the CD has had comparable staying power, companies like Apple are no longer including optical drives with their computers.
Since software-as-a-service products are directly downloaded to your computer, you don’t need to worry about jumping through hoops to install the program. Further, there’s no need for extra hardware or devices in order to make something work; it is fully-contained and ready to use as soon as it finishes downloading.
When you purchase a boxed software product, you are also often buying a license with it stipulating that it can only be installed and used on one computer at a time. If you won’t have access to that computer, your options are to either uninstall and reinstall onto a different computer or go without.
In the days of software piracy, these measures were included to ensure software use was legitimate. Today, however, the “main” computer for many people is their phones, and they may only use desktops and laptops as necessary.
Software-as-a-service products are generally cloud- or account-based; while you can install them for use on any device, you need to log in and verify that it is actually you using the software. However, this is a small hurdle to overcome in exchange for being able to access a program, with all of your data, anywhere you’d like.
There may still be a place for traditional boxed software, but over the last several years many companies that once relied on that model, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have shifted to a direct-to-consumer model. Not only do users get access to the latest software at all times, but it’s also more efficient and streamlined for companies.