Thursday, October 23, 2008

Software Retronyms

A curious set of posts from my friends at Gartner on how technology complicates language

When something new comes along, we sometimes have to invent new terms for the old things. Before we had mobile phones, all we had was phones. But once mobile phones became common, we needed to have a way of referring to the old phones, so the terms "fixed phone" or "landline" started to appear.

Once upon a time, all personal computers went under an office desk. Then we started to get portable computers, supposedly cool enough to put on your lap (if you happen to be wearing heat-proof trousers), so they are called laptops. The old-fashioned sort that sit under a desk are now called desktops.

Words like this, that are introduced for the sake of some kind of backwards compatibility, are called retronyms.

As an industry analyst, I often hear vendors trying to distance themselves from their competitors, or justify the wonders of their latest device by contrasting it with some notional predecessor. So they have to find labels to describe and disparage the past. Old software somehow manages to be simultaneously monolithic and spaghetti; old software methods are always silo-based waterfalls, and so on. If you are a serious innovator, the worst insult you can ever throw at anyone is "traditional".

Do we need terms for systems that are not real-time, not service-oriented, not event-driven, not business-aligned? Yes of course we do. But we may not find many vendors who will admit that their products lack any of these characteristics. On the contrary, they are all pimping up their products with the latest fashionable buzz-words.

Perhaps the most extraordinary example of retronymy is the series of mobile phone generations. First we had 3G. Then we had technology that wasn't quite 3G, so it was called 2.5G. Now we have 2.75G. Where will it end?

1 comment:

  1. visit

    Old Versions Softwares- is an archive of old versions of various programs.