What’s in a name? (webware)

Some pals and I (the Enterprise Irregulars) are currently having a heated debate about where new industry terms come from. It all started with Phil Wainewright expressing disdain for the SaaS acronym in his ZDNet blog.

Some think that only a ‘big name’ can popularise a new term, others think that this is an old-fashioned view and that the grass roots can do it through social media.

The word causing the excitement over the past few days is ‘webware’. The earliest mention of it that I can find is in webmonkey in 1999. C|NET launched a blog of the same name on November 7 last year. Recent online articles mentioned by Wainewright have also pumped up the name.

Webware sounds like a useful umbrella term when talking in general about services (applications, data and connections) which can only be delivered through a web-connected computer. More specifically, I think they ought to demand nothing of the user other than a modern browser and (ideally) a broadband connection. This would rule out some modern apps like Google Earth and standalone feed-readers like GreatNews.

We’ve had other naming attempts (Office 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, blogs, wikis, SaaS et al), and each has gained traction but they either overlap or are subsidiary to the proposed ‘webware’ term.

David Terrar, a SaaS vendor and avid blogger says, "As a SaaS evangelist who constantly has to explain what it means, I agree it’s an ugly term." He’s all for using ‘webware’.

Others suggest that users want to understand, from the term being used, what service or business value is being offered. But "Personal Computer", "wiki", "blog", "motor car", only give the vaguest clues.

Here’s how the C|NET Webware blog explained things when it launched:

There’s a shift underway in how people use computers and the
Internet. Every day more utility is being delivered over the Web. Full
applications can now be run in a browser, accessible from any computer.
Software? It’s no longer required. Software is becoming Webware.

There are different types of Webware.

  • Productivity applications. Microsoft may own the desktop,
    but not the Web. Online, Google has solid productivity apps. And there
    are dozens of upstarts in this market too.
  • Data-driven applications. Many new online services rely
    on real-time data that simply could not be encapsulated into software.
    Examples include Google Maps, Zillow and Farecast.
  • Community services. Webware enables people to network,
    share their lives, and work together. Examples are MySpace, LinkedIn,
    YouTube, and SmartSheet.

Do you think the term could catch on? Do you care? How important is naming anyway?

Are we wasting our Easter breath even having the discussion?
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5 thoughts on “What’s in a name? (webware)

  1. CNET had a site called “Webware” in 2000 as well. It was focused on the ASP business. The site was discontinued around 2001.
    When we decided to launch a site on consumer Web applications, I discovered we still had the “Webware” domain in our inventory and nabbed it. I love the term.
    – Rafe (editor of Webware.com)

  2. Interesting. “Consumer web applications”. Perhaps we should start another debate on what constitutes a consumer.
    I focus all my paid-for writing to business users but I think the webware term is good for them too.
    If I start using it, you’re not going to sue me are you?
    (I hope that’s a joke.)

  3. Interesting question. I’m not sure I get it yet. It seems that you’re trying to draw a distinction between “native” Web apps and on-premesis apps that are, well, Web-aware. I don’t know if that distinction is meaningful. I expect that all software will be “web-aware” over time. Heck, Windows Update is ultimately a service enhancement to Windows. I’ve heard other people use another uncomfortable term in this space – S+S or Software + Services. This term as I understand it intended to capture the idea that software running on a box – a client PC or a server application – is somehow improved, enhanced (pick you adjective) with services. How would this fit into your model?

  4. I think that requiring nothing other than a “modern browser” would serve as a reasonable filter. Microsoft updates don’t arrive through a browser. I publish software which can export HTML but the program itself isn’t webware, even if its outputs can be.

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