Donnie Berkholz's Story of Data

What is packaging? It’s all about the barrier to entry.

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Something my esteemed colleagues James and Steve been talking about for years here at RedMonk is the value of packaging. But what is packaging, you ask? It’s not just the boxes you used to buy software CDs in, or the way software is supplied in most Linux distributions.

Packaging means the user experience of software delivery and use, whether it’s run locally or in the cloud, as a command-line script or a Web 2.0 SaaS app. It’s about catalyzing the barrier to entry, as I’ve been talking about over the past week using the metaphor of chemical reactions.

It’s often not the technically superior solution that comes out on top, but rather the one that’s easiest to discover, obtain, install and use. Here are some examples of packaging:

  1. Obtaining and installing software is easier through mobile app stores than downloading individual apps, and the latter is often made purposely difficult;
  2. For open-source software, using a standardized build system like autotools or ant instead of a homegrown, handwritten set of Makefiles;
  3. Providing software as a SaaS app instead of requiring people to download it and set it up;
  4. If they need it locally, giving them a virtual or physical appliance, preferably one that’s managed for them;
  5. Improving the usability and modernity of your software to fit the latest standards in look and feel;
  6. Creating a great set of documentation that makes your software a pleasure to use;
  7. Redesigning your website to make it easy for people to find the information they want and download your software;
  8. Building a superb community that draws new users to your software because of its helpfulness;
  9. Having a tiered pricing structure including a very cheap or free model to encourage people to try your software before they need to commit; and
  10. Enabling self service to the greatest extent possible so users can quickly and easily begin using your software.

Winning customers with superior packaging holds true from the cheapest mobile apps to the most complex and expensive software. Even the biggest enterprise companies, like IBM, believe this. At this spring’s IBM Tivoli conference (Pulse), I saw a demo of the old and new versions of Maximo asset-management software, and the visual difference (ease of use, thus packaging) boggled the mind. It went from something that looked like it came out of Windows 95 to a modern, user-friendly app. We’re also seeing it with analytics software coming out of places like SAP (BusinessObjects Predictive Analysis) and IBM (the Cognos family), which focus on ease of use for anyone, not just experts.

Nobody is free from the need to do this well, particularly with broader trends like the consumerization of IT taking a solid grip on the world.

Disclosure: IBM and SAP are both clients.



  1. I recently came across a great form of packaging that is not only automatic, it is free.
    If you’re one of the multitude of developers at github, all you needdo to package your code is to tag it. Github then automatically creates zip and tgz files for you, and puts them in the Downloads section! No more that dreary task of zip ./…  and tar cfz … . Just write the code and tag it.

    dave shields

  2. great post donny. this is exactly why we’re doing the Adobe PhoneGap distro of Cordova and also PhoneGap Build.

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