Software Becomes a Product

SMS/360 Systems Measurement Software brochure

Founded in 1967, shortly before IBM “unbundled” its software, Boole & Babbage offered software to help users monitor, analyze and improve the efficiency of their computer operations.

Software Becomes a Product

In the early days of computing, most users developed software for their own computers, and it rarely ran on other models. Many manufacturers “bundled” programs with their computers—that software was free.

With software either custom made or given away free, there was a limited commercial market for it. At least, not until a lawsuit against IBM changed the game.

IDMS-DC data communications software advertisement

IDMS is a network-type database system originating with work by Charles Bachman and commercialized by John Cullinane. It remains in use. IDMS-DC was added to facilitate data communications between IDMS and other system components.

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IDC Software Products brochure

By the mid-1960s, independent software companies offered products to users of mainframe computer systems, but manufacturers’ free software undercut the market. Widespread incompatibility between computers also limited the opportunities for sales of programs.

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From Giving Software to Selling Software

IBM was in the hardware business. Marketing strategy focused on increasing sales volume, and on helping customers solve problems. Free software was a means to both ends: an incentive to buy IBM machines and a way to meet customer needs.

With a huge community of users willing to share programs, IBM amassed a vast, free software library. Rivals objected, sparking a Justice Department antitrust suit in the late 1960s.

In 1969, IBM unbundled many programs (separating software from hardware). Overnight, software changed from a giveaway to a competitive commercial product.

“Steal from your friends” DECUS button

Founded by Digital Equipment Corporation in 1961, DECUS was a support group for DEC computer users who freely shared software they had written. Because hardware manufacturers didn’t charge for software, it was difficult for independent commercial software companies to thrive.

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AUTOFLOW brochure

AUTOFLOW was an early program produced by an independent software company. It produced flowcharts automatically – eliminating a tedious programming task. ADR sued IBM over flowcharting software - a factor in IBM’s decision to unbundle some software.

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Sharing Software & Advice

As computing exploded in the 1950s, the advantages of cooperation often outweighed any benefits of competition. This was particularly true for software, not yet a commercial product.

In 1955, IBM users formed a group called SHARE. Members traded documentation and software not offered by IBM. A half century later, SHARE remains active.

STABR: A Computer Program for Slope Stability

Public universities developed and freely distributed their engineering software. Many important geotechnical and structural engineering programs were developed at Berkeley.

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Software Reference Manual for the IBM 704

This manual was the first significant product of SHARE, an IBM users group formed in 1955 and still active. SHARE members traded software and documentation they wrote for their IBM computers.

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