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It's interesting to see how web distribution of software is creating an environment that in some ways echoes the way we first used business apps in the early eighties.

The earliest small business PC apps were pretty unsophisticated and commonly centered around the automation of a low number of very time consuming tasks like invoicing, controlling inventory, running a payroll or printing statements and, importantly, all inside a traditional office context that remained largely people-driven and manual. That was part due to the limitations of early PC technology, the immaturity of software development and the cost of hardware; most small businesses could only afford a single PC so there was really no point thinking beyond single user task automation.

Over time and with the subsequent emergence of lower cost PCs and PC networking, these simplistic apps naturally iterated and became progressively more sophisticated and broader in their scope to evolve into what we'd recognise today as the encumbent generation of kitchen-sink apps like Sage, MYOB or Quickbooks. Such all-in-one apps offered the broadest set of capabilities to automate and computerise most of the tasks and processes any small business could sensibly require.

However, by their kitchen-sink nature they don't tend to lend themselves well to the kind of granular flexiblility people might look for today and in large part now serve to re-inforce those old industrial era ways of working and, in some cases, have turned into quite monolithic concerns that demonstrate that there's a fine line between sophisticated and complicated.

Today, because the web has eliminated almost all of the traditional friction and cost associated with the physical distribution and deployment of software, we're now seeing the re-emergence, albeit in an entirely different context, of single purpose apps again.

The early web used to be just another technology layer that sat on top of our physical world. But as both the web and our use of it has matured over the last ten years, we're seeing not only a viable economic context for low cost, single purpose apps making sense in a way that would be totally counter-intuitive in a traditional app development mindset, we're also seeing 'apps' that can only exist in the web paradigm, like live colloboration between accountants and business owners or effective remote working practices like raising an invoice 'in the moment' on your smartphone in the car park of a client.

Technology used to just streamline discrete processes that sat inside the industrial era business context, but we're now seeing the web progressively replacing whole sections of that old industrial context with new entirely ways of working.

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