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IByte, June 1994
http://www.byte.com/art/9406/sec7/art1.htm

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 international pie.

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 developers created.

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 boundaries.

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 home countries.

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.

What's Ahead?

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 russellk@bix.com .
 
 
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