In an ironic twist in the always topsy-turvy tale of software evolution, The Next Big Thing appears to be a series of many small things.
A few months back, I met with the Microsoft Office team to discuss the future of productivity applications. They cited some internal research they’ve done, showing that it is extremely difficult to find computer-based workers who regularly use more than five applications during the average day.
This, without a doubt, is a travesty, because there is a knock down, drag ‘em out renaissance going on involving guerrilla apps, widgets, and many other software offerings that don’t happen to come from Microsoft or other gorilla-sized providers.
There is now an army of cottage-industry coders who are skilled at creating highly specialized, targeted applications and distributing them online—often for free. In many cases, some of the most interesting applications coming out are targeted at emerging platforms. Steve Jobs, for example, already said at Apple’s WWDC 2007 that developers would be able to write applications for the iPhone that will integrate with iPhone services.
Are you peeved that the iPhone won’t let you send to multiple SMS recipients at once? That’s exactly the kind of pesky problem that will be solved quickly by skilled coders, in the same way free, small, useful applications have proliferated for platforms like Palm’s. Even Nintendo’s Wii console has become a fruitful platform for unexpected uses and workarounds, including applications for watching online streaming video on televisions rather than computers (using the Opera browser).
Boosted by increased use of mobile devices and other trends, non-mainstream software titles are already taking on increasing importance in software usage and development. As we wrote earlier,
In the past, we had a few platforms for lone coders who had financial limitations to scale their businesses. No more: we have many more platforms, and ultra cheap resources for lone coders (or two) to scale their operations, thanks to Amazon’s web services efforts.
Broadband’s role in the emergence of tiny apps is often overlooked. Thanks to high speed connections, we don’t think twice about downloading a 10 megabit application, just to try it out, in a matter of seconds. In the dial-up days, it would take hours to download an application. Similarly, there has been an explosion in open source tools for software development.
In an ironic twist in the always topsy-turvy tale of software evolution, The Next Big Thing appears to be a series of many small things. The good news is that you can catch this wave right now, by discovering the software gems–almost all of them free–at the best sites that aggregate them. Let’s take a sneak peek, outside the radar range of the shrink-wrapping juggernauts:
TinyApps.Org: Here is my favorite of all guerrilla software sites: TinyApps.Org. Even the stark interface rings of no intrusion from commercially-driven shrink wrappers. Almost all the titles you will find here are free to download and keep. Under the Graphics link on the left, I highly recommend IrfanView for graphics viewing and editing, XnView for converting between hundreds of graphics formats, and MWSnap for screen captures (it has a cool ruler that makes it easy to size your images for, say, a blog).
Other cool titles at TinyApps.Org include ListMaster Pro, for mailing list management, and several of the e-mail clients that you will find under the Internet link. And don’t feel left out if you’re a Mac user. Under TinyApp.Org’s OS X link, you’ll find many cool tools. In particular, iStumbler is a great app for sniffing out available Wi-Fi networks, AirPort networks, and Bluetooth devices.
Widgets: Apple popularized widgets—mini-applications that anyone can create, which often reside right on the desktop—but Yahoo!’s purchase of Konfabulator, Google’s participation in the space, and other trends have really stoked the fire. Take a gander at the free offerings for the Macintosh, from Yahoo!, and and from Google. Note that, in keeping with its policy of doing nothing the normal way, Google dubs them Gadgets.
Big Media, Small Apps. In your quest to extend out beyond the pet applications you’re used to, don’t forget that the large technology media companies have been compiling freeware and near-freeware for many years, and they are often privy to the best titles from amateur and professional developers. PC Magazine’s Software Download Center is particularly good for ferreting out useful software utilities.
To name just one of them that might save your butt big time, check out Exhume It–an absolutely brilliant, easy-to-use way to recover files that you thought were deleted. It’s free if you subscribe to the Download Center, as are many of the other utilities. Likewise, CNet’s Download.com site offers tons of free, useful applications and utilities.
Of course, many of the best guerrilla apps out there are one-shot offerings that exist outside the application aggregation sites. I particularly like Easy Thumbnails–a very cool utility for scaling images up and down in size, especially if you need to put a lot of thumbnail images on a Web page. You can even create your thumbnails in batches.
So if you’re stuck in the five-app rut, remember that it’s in your future, and in everyone’s future, to branch out into smaller applications coming from the many gifted developers out there who offer them for free. In a future installment, I’ll look at some of the best guerilla apps out there for mobile devices, although you’ll find quite a few of them at the aggregation sites mentioned above.