When Software Dies

This past week RaceIT told customers that they would be closing down their servers later this year. I’ve (Bob) had a personal experience with this in the past, and thought I would write this blog to give the creator and user perspective. I also will write a blog on Why Software Dies.

As the picture on the right reminds us, this happens to even the most successful products

Creator Perspective of Software Death

When I was at Bluestone, we created one of the first Application Servers for the web in 1994. The market and the company grew quickly, and we went public in 1999 during the first Internet bubble. Our stock went from 15 to 130 and back to 15 within 12 months, and then Hewlett Packard acquired us because they wanted to do software. Half a year later they decided they wanted to buy Compaq and do PC’s rather than software and shut our division down. I was the head of that division and had to lay off 600+ people (including myself).

As you can imagine, it is a life altering experience for the creators of software. Bluestone had nearly 1,000 person years of development into the product, and several times that in terms of the rest of the company employees in Support, Marketing, Sales, and Finance. Not only did most people lose their jobs, the very center of their creation – a set of software programs – were destined to be no more. It would be like Van Gough seeing a beautiful Starry Night painting burned.

When I first found out about RaceIT, I called Eric Cone (the original creator of the RaceIt code, founder of the company and former CEO) with condolences. While he left a number of years ago after the acquisition by Competitor Group (and recently joined RunSignup), I knew he still had ties and would mourn this final move. I knew he would care about the people he had hired and worked alongside. I knew he would feel frustrated that although the RaceIT code base may have been getting a bit old, there was a lot of great code in there that had done some pretty amazing things. And now it would be gone – like Starry Night in flames…

For creators, what happens when software dies is like when you lose someone close to you. It sucks.

Users Perspective of Software Death

While it may not carry the emotional toll that creators feel, the impact can be very real. Users have to “migrate” to another software platform. This means re-learning, data migration, and potential impact on how their customers use it.

There are real risks here. In the Bluestone example, customers had written many applications on our software. Fortunately there was the Java Standard (J2EE) that made migration simpler, but it cost real time and money to do the migration. In the case of RaceIT, they have told customers that their servers will shut down in November. What happens if a customer does not export their data before then? What happens if the few people left at RaceIT who know how to run the servers leave before then? Will appropriate security patches continue to be applied? What if there is a DDOS attack or worse a security breach before a customer’s race and data is migrated?

Many RaceIT customers had already migrated to RunSignup over the past several years. We have a similar philosophy to when Eric ran the company before it was acquired, with a focus on technology solutions for the industry above all else. We have taken their former role of being the leaders in the market and having the “momentum”. There are still many RaceIT users, and RunSignup has created a Migration Assistance Program where we help customers with their new race websites and getting up to speed on RunSignup and their data migration.

For users of software that dies, it is a pain. But there are usually others to help pick up the pieces, which helps a bit…

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