The debate of whether software is a service or a product has been a topic of contention in the technological world. The question arises from the extensive ways in which software is applied and used in our daily lives. Technology is evolving, and with it, software too is changing its form and capabilities.
Software as a Product
On one side of the debate, we have individuals and organizations that view software as a product. In this perspective, software shares characteristics typically associated with physical goods. A key defining feature of a product is that it is tangible and can be transferred from one user to another.
In the case of packaged software, such as a Microsoft Office Suite, it often comes in a DVD/CD format, providing a tangible aspect. The software product, once purchased, is owned by the customer who bought it. This means the customer is free to do whatever they want with the software – from installing it on multiple computers to reselling it, as long as they comply with the licensing terms.
Another argument backing the idea of software being a product revolves around the concept of ‘title transfer’. When you buy software from a store, for example, the rights to use that specific software pass from the vendor to you, which is reminiscent of buying a product.
Software as a Service
Meanwhile, there are those who view software not as a product, but as a service. This point of view has gained traction with advancements in cloud computing technology. The idea of software as a service (SaaS) model is that users do not own the software. Instead, they pay to use it, often on a subscription basis.
Take, for example, Adobe Creative Cloud. This suite of applications is only accessible by a paid subscription. The user never actually owns the software but uses it over the internet. The same applies to other services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Office 365. These are not traditional software products that users can buy once and use forever. They are services that are hosted on the internet and provided to the users for a fee.
The service aspect of these platforms is also seen in how updates, maintenance, and improvements are overseen by the SaaS provider. Unlike software products, where the onus of installation and upgrades falls on the user, SaaS auto-updates all applications when a new version is released. Additionally, SaaS is highly scalable, allows multi-device accessibility, and provides a customizable user experience. These attributes further consolidate its standing as a service rather than a product.
Conclusion: A Hybrid Perspective
Perhaps the answer isn’t as binary as simply terming software a ‘product’ or a ‘service’. Instead, software might be better viewed as a hybrid of both a product and a service. As technology continues to advance, the boundaries between products and services are becoming increasingly blurred.
Some software still behaves as products, while others are distinctly services. However, an increasing number of software options are now mixing elements of both. This hybrid concept allows the software to act as a product until loaded onto a device, at which point, it functions as a service.
The ‘Software as a Product’ concept is slowly diminishing as more businesses and users are adopting the subscription-based model. However, it will still take time for the entire software industry to make this shift. Until then, software will continue to straddle both domains, occupying a unique niche that is neither fully product nor service.
Thus, the software is both product and service, depending on the perspective one chooses to consider. The transition from one to the other is a reflection of the evolution of technology and the creativity of those who produce and use it.”