How the Unix Philosophy Gave Us "Web Apps" Instead of "Software"

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Unpack the Unix philosophy's role in shaping today's web apps. A fascinating look at software evolution.

Vendr | How the Unix philosophy gave us "web apps" instead of "software".
Written by
Vendr Team
Published on
April 4, 2023
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After decades of calling it software, "app" took over as the default name for the stuff we run on computers. And it fits. Today's software is more focused on doing one thing well, Unix style. Apps aren't just mini software. They're software for a purpose.

The tipping point was May 2011 when the term "app" surpassed "software" in popularity, marking a shift in how we refer to programs for computing devices.

Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPhone App Store in 2008 revolutionized mobile development and language around software. "App" became associated with the future and the next big thing, while "software" evoked traditional desktop programs.

"Software" encompasses a wide range of functions, often bundled together for maximum utility. In contrast, "apps" focus on single, specific tasks, which makes sense for mobile devices. This shift in thinking aligns with the Unix philosophy of doing one thing well, which emphasizes simplicity and efficiency.

The Rise of "App"

Web apps further embraced the Unix philosophy by focusing on specific tasks and encouraging collaboration. Just like Unix commands are designed to do a specific task efficiently, web apps are designed to perform a particular function effectively. They also leverage other simple apps and services to enhance functionality.

The Power of Integration

The Unix philosophy of text outputs enabled data exchange between apps, leading to the rise of web APIs and integration tools like Zapier and IFTTT. Web apps can seamlessly connect with each other, allowing users to automate tasks and streamline workflows. This integration enhances productivity and efficiency, mirroring the Unix philosophy's emphasis on simplicity and collaboration.

Simplifying Complexity

The term "software" faced criticism for being too broad and complex, leading to the rise of "app" as the dominant term. By focusing on apps, users can easily identify and utilize specific functions without being overwhelmed by unnecessary features. This change in terminology reflects a shift in how software is delivered and perceived, emphasizing simplicity and focused functionality.

The Evolution of Software Delivery

Today, "app" is searched for over five times more frequently than "software," highlighting the significant transformation in our approach to computing. The way software is delivered has evolved, but it still serves the same purpose: providing solutions to our needs and tasks.

In conclusion, the Unix philosophy played a significant role in giving us "web apps" instead of "software." By embracing the principles of simplicity, efficiency, and collaboration, web apps have revolutionized how we approach computing. They focus on specific tasks, encourage integration, and simplify complexity. The rise of "app" as the dominant term reflects a shift towards delivering software that is purpose-driven and user-centric. As technology continues to evolve, the Unix philosophy will continue to shape the future of software development.

Vendr Team
Vendr's team of SaaS and negotiation experts provide their curated insights into the latest trends in software, tool capabilities, and modern procurement strategies.

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