IByte, June 1994
Software Goes Global
It's a brave new world for software development out there today--in fact, it's
the whole world, producing and purchasing software
By Russell Kay
It's easy to think of software as primarily an American thing: Most of it has
been created and sold here, and here is where its future lies. Wanna bet?
The fact is, software today is a global affair. By some estimates, over 150
million computers are scattered around the world, and at least a third of these
are located outside the U.S. All these computers, including those overseas, need
software; this is a huge need that someone is going to fill, and it's a market
that major software developers cannot afford to ignore. So it's hardly
surprising that U.S. software developers are scrambling for a piece of the
At the same time, foreign software developers are having an increasing impact on
the U.S. market. As a BYTE reader, it's a safe bet that you use many software
products. It's likely that some of those products originate from a foreign
source or that they incorporate significant code or technology that overseas
International sales make up more than half of the revenues for the top 100 U.S.
software companies, according to the SPA (Software Publishers Association).
Microsoft, for example, reported that in 1992, over half -- 55 percent -- of its
$3.2 billion revenues were earned outside the U.S. The SPA recently reported
that in Western Europe alone, 1993 sales of PC applications software amounted to
$1.8 billion. While this represents an 11 percent growth in monetary value over
1992, it also represents a remarkable 75 percent growth in the number of units
sold (see the figure "Sales of Applications Software in Europe").
The Cross-Cultural Blues
If you're developing software, you're familiar with having to design or
implement for multiple hardware platforms and different operating systems. Now
you're going to have to add yet a few more variables into the development mix.
If you have any interest at all in the overseas markets -- and you should -- you
need to consider how to modify your products to suit those foreign markets. As
L. Chris Miller explains in "Transborder Tips and Traps," just taking
care of the "mechanical" and top-level language differences is no
simple task. Combine this with cultural differences (see "Crossing the
Cultural Boundary"), and you begin to realize just how complex an
undertaking it is to make software appealing and usable across international
Programmers Here, There, and Everywhere
Yet marketing packaged software is only part of the story. Increasingly,
programmers outside the country are developing software-even for U.S.
companies. At the moment, there are two primary offshore sources for programming
talent. One is Southeast Asia, including India, Singapore, and the Philippines
in particular. All have relatively large numbers of skilled programmers
available at wage levels that seriously undercut the American norms. In
"Developing Software Overseas," Edward Yourdon describes the ways that
foreign software developers are gaining a foothold in the American market and
are competing successfully against the international software giants in their
Another important source for foreign programming is the countries of eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union. Russia, for example, has a pool of talent
that, according to industry-observer Yourdon, is the equal of anything we can
produce in the West. These folks are reportedly overjoyed to work for $200 to
$300 per month, and they bring valuable contributions to the table. We ignore
these programmers at our own peril.
Perhaps because the Russians were cut off from Western markets and practices for
so long, perhaps because they have generally had to work on underpowered (by
U.S. standards ) equipment, or perhaps because they have a special talent for
puzzle-thinking, Russian programmers seem to bring new insights and
nontraditional ways of thinking to programming problems and models.
One small caveat may be in order. Americans shouldn't forget that a significant
fraction of the world's computer viruses originated in eastern Europe, primarily
Bulgaria and Russia. According to Vesselin Bontchev, a native Bulgarian and
antivirus researcher at the University of Hamburg, Germany, these viruses were
primarily the product of underemployed and undervalued programmers who found
virus writing an interesting and amusing way to get back at the authorities.
Let's hope that is behind them...and us.
Given the growing importance of the international market, you can expect to see
publishers and developers place added emphasis on adapting their
products-particularly new products that can start from a clean design and
coding slate-to multiple languages and use in foreign countries.
So there's a lot at stake and a great deal to consider when you think about
software as a global resource. The rest of this state-of-the-art section
examines some of those considerations, discussing just what the
internationalization of software means to the end user, to the software designer
and coder, and to the marketer and publisher.
Russell Kay is a BYTE technical editor experienced in border crossings by virtue
of having grown up on the Canada-U.S. border and later serving as a Peace Corps
volunteer in Brazil. You can reach him on the Internet or BIX as