You own nothing: does it matter?

You spend the day working on a presentation in PowerPoint, editing images in Photoshop, or managing business accounts in QuickBooks.

On your commute home, you listen to music on your smartphone, get stuck into a novel on your Kindle, or settle down to watch a film on your tablet.

That’s a pretty normal day for many of us, but it illustrates a significant shift in our relationship with the products we “buy”. Thanks to the adoption of cloud-based subscriptions and content, we no longer own any of the software that’s key to our work, or have our own copies of the music we listen to or the books we read.

Is this important? Or is this shift merely the latest transition in the quick-moving world of tech? Does it matter that we own nothing?

Business in the cloud

While consumers are only now becoming acclimatised to the concept of effectively renting software and services online, businesses have been doing it for years – and it’s already changing the way software is viewed and developed.

SMBs have shifted to the cloud more quickly than enterprises, which IDC analyst David Bradshaw attributes to the fact that such businesses “don’t want to have the hassle of running their own software – they want somebody else to do that for them”.

This view is affecting how software is developed, according to analyst firm Strategy Analytics. In a report published earlier this year, the firm said business-software developers are making their products easier to use and more like consumer software, aware that SMBs are using them without much in-house support.

“In keeping with changing SMB needs and the mix of technology that will meet those needs, consumer-orientated vendors such as Amazon, Google and Zoho are putting a user-friendly experience first as they extend from consumer to business markets,” said analyst Andrew Brown in the report.

“Established SMB vendors, such as Intacct, Intuit, NetSuite, Microsoft and Sage are upping their investments to make their solutions accessible and more simple to use. Even vendors that have made their mark in the large-enterprise space are revisiting SMB design points. Citrix, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP, for instance, are offering business products that were designed expressly for companies with limited IT personnel,” he continued.

Yet it isn’t only ownership of software that small businesses are potentially forgoing by shifting to the cloud, but ownership of – or at least access to – their data, too.

If a company cancels a subscription to Office 365, it will still be able to open files in Microsoft’s web apps or in free productivity suites such as LibreOffice. This isn’t necessarily the case with more specialised products, such as accounting or CRM software, or Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite.

Adobe

“If you were to stop subscribing, you should make sure you have all the files you’d be using, and that you can potentially open [them] using an alternative tool or service,” says Bradshaw.

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