The Great Crumble

It should be noted that the following text is a fictional story, imagined as a “what if?” scenario. It is not a prediction of the future at all, but rather the process of writing these stories is a tool for me to think through different design questions and different possible futures.

It only took a few years for the entire software industry to crumble. Once people were able to take agency over their own software and workspaces, once programmers didn’t have to bang their head against the wall for months reimplementing the same things that’ve been implemented a thousand times before, once — to put it concisely — software had become composable, 99% of existing user-facing software was made obsolete overnight.

A lot of people didn’t understand it at first, of course it was something new to learn. A strong and loyal following grew around the tool and it spread like wildfire through word of mouth alone. Mostly programmers and designers at first who felt empowered by the tool to augment their own process. It was these early power-users which really grew and polished WormOSWormOS is a joke-name for this fictional operating system I describe in these stories, it harkens back to those childhood images of a worm, sometimes with a book in-hand, popping its head out of an apple. The idea being that WormOS eats Apple.

to the point it is at today — crafting new interface elements and transformations between data structures, sharing their own themesI imagine this to be a bit like bullet journaling, with people sharing beautiful (and functional) hand-crafted layouts with each other, with instagrams cropping up to curate the crème de la crème of interface design magic

and layouts with each other, etc.

This set the stage for others to adopt WormOS. Each new piece of functionality improved the whole system for everybody. Each theme gave the chance for people to express themselves, to customize and adapt their software not only to fit their needs but also their style. Before long new software built ontop of WormOS began to pop up, interfaces for font editing, animation, 3d modeling, photo manipulation, and much more. In fact that’s just scratching the surface!

Once the users started billowing in, things started to get really crazy. A lot of these pieces of functionality could be combined you see, there were no more walled gardens: a font designer could bring in animation tools into her font editor and create an animated font if she so desired; anything could be dragged or embedded into anything else, I could drag a 3d model for example directly into my video editor without having to export from one and import to the other. New use cases appeared, software that could not before have been imagined possible, and this tightly interwoven tapestry of software grew into spaces too small and too niche for traditional software startups to ever dare to venture.

The problem is that all this caused most of the software industry to come crumbling to a halt. Move fast and break things may have worked for a time but resulted in companies too slow and broken to adapt to real change. There was never really any competition in the past, only tradeoffs, choosing between different pieces of software that were each slightly crooked and bug-ridden in their own way.

Some companies survived from this, mostly those which developed professional software like video editors or CAD software. While many people moved to video editors built natively inside of WormOS, industry was slow enough to switch that it gave these companies time to change directions. In search of new business models, funds were set up allowing people and businesses to invest in the future of particular software components. Disney and Adobe for example became big maintainers of the entire video-processing and effects chain, and the funds helped fuel further research and development into more powerful effects, realistic renders, and even alternative modes of media.

Still other businesses thrived under this new ecosystem. It became a booming market to design themes, or “skins” as some people refer to them for their workspaces. While there are innumerable free skins, and it is pretty simple to make some of the basic customizations yourself, commercial themes often tend to be a lot more complete and polished, with custom icon packs, and sometimes even special layouts for particular software components.

Buying software was not dead. Still it could be valuable for someone to have created a very custom workflow, or a very niche use case. In general though, software shifted from large companies accumulating huge amounts of capital and revenue to a network and community of smaller independent creators. The focus shifted from mass-market to more niche pieces of software and a marketplace of themes.

Some programmers and designers adapted—used to working for high salaries at large companies or startups that were mostly made obsolete—many found their skills to be useful elsewhere. While some joined research and development teams, pushing the boundaries of software-space even further, many others branched out into different fields. Thousands of smart minds flooded into art, green energy, medical imaging, inventing novel materials, etc. applying computational techniques to more tangible problems. In essence, programmers shifted from inventing new problems to actively trying to solve real ones.

And thus the world was slowly transformed. Much of the old software industry had collapsed, but most people in retrospect agree that it was for the better. The golden age of computing is back. And this, this is just the beginning…