Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From Pots and Vats to Programs and Apps: Coming Soon!

Packagebook frontonly

Monkigras in London this past January had packaging as its theme, both in the software and the more meta sense. James Governor graciously extended me an invitation to speak. The resulting talk, A Short History of Packaging (video here), described how packaging in both retail and software has evolved from the functional to something that improves the buying and using experience.

I’d been looking to write a new book for a while. I knew I wanted it to relate to the containers, microservices, cloud broadly, etc. space, but I didn’t really have an angle. I considered just rewriting my three-year old Computing Next but so much had changed and so much remained in flux that the timing didn’t feel right.

But packaging! Now there was an angle and one that I could work on together with my Red Hat colleague William Henry (who is a senior consulting engineer and works on DevOps strategy). 

So that’s what we did. We set a target to do a book signing at Red Hat Summit in early June. We mostly made it. We signed a pre-release version and have spent the past month or so working off-and-on to polish up the contents, give colleagues the opportunity to review, and update a few things based on various industry announcements and events. 

We’re finally just about ready to go. I expect to have the paperback version orderable through Amazon by about mid-July. We’ll also be making a free PDF version available at around the same time; distribution details TBD. Given the free PDF I don’t expect to release a Kindle version. The layout of the book (sidebars, footnotes, some amount of graphics) doesn’t really lend itself to this format and it would be extra work.

The thesis of the book is that if you think about packaging broadly, it highlights critical tradeoffs.

Unpackaged and unbundled components offer ultimate flexibility, control, and customization. Packaging and bundling can simplify and improve usability—but potentially at the cost of constraining choice and future options.

Bundling can also create products that are interesting, useful, and economically viable in a way the fully disaggregated individual components may not be. Think newspapers, financial instruments, and numerous telecommunications services examples.

Open source software, composed of the ultimately malleable bits that can be modified and redistributed, offers near-infinite choice.

Yet, many software users and consumers desire a more opinionated, bundled, and yes, packaged experience—trading off choice for convenience.

This last point is a critical tension around open source software and, for lack of a better umbrella term, “the cloud” in the current era. Which makes understanding the role that packaging may play not just important, but a necessity. Ultimately, packaging enables open source to create the convenience and the ease of use that users want without giving up on innovation, community-driven development, and user control.

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