What it is: Integrated software is a single program that offers multiple functions such as a word processor, spreadsheet, and database.
At one time, people used separate software such as Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets, dBASE for databases, and WordStar for word processing. Then software publishers got the bright idea of creating an integrated program that would combine multiple features into a single program. One of the most popular integrated programs for the Macintosh was AppleWorks while MS-DOS had Microsoft Works. Ashton-Tate offered a more comprehensive integrated program called Framework while Lotus offered a similar program called Symphony.
The basic idea behind an integrated program was that you could do everything you needed in one program without learning different commands for a word processor, spreadsheet, or database. Then integrated software slowly died away. Here are several reasons.
First, integrated software’s main advantage was simplicity and familiarity. Once you learned how to use one feature of an integrated program, it was trivial to learn another feature. However that advantage evaporated when graphical user interfaces became popular and every program sported similar user interfaces with pull-down menus. The Macintosh had always offered a graphical user interface, but to MS-DOS users switching to Windows, the ability to use a familiar user interface among multiple programs stripped away the ease of use advantage that integrated software once offered.
A second reason why integrated software died was because it was good at everything but not very good at anything in particular. Back in the old days, it cost $495 for a copy of Lotus 1-2-3 to do spreadsheets, another $495 for a copy of dBASE to do databases, and another $495 for WordStar to do word processing. The cost of software often exceeded the cost of the computer itself. In comparison, integrated software often cost $149 although both Framework and Symphony cost $695. Yet the cost was still cheaper than buying programs individually.
What killed this advantage of integrated software was the lowering cost of software. Today you can buy the home edition of Microsoft Office for $140 or less and each program in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint) are far more powerful than anything an integrated program could offer. As dedicated software got cheaper, there was no reason to use integrated software any more.
Now consider the problem Apple currently faces with iTunes. Originally iTunes was meant to play music. Then it was tweaked to play video. Finally it was tweaked even further to connect to the iTunes Store. Over the years, Apple added the ability to buy e-books, movies, and music in iTunes along with the ability to synchronize your iPhone and iPad while backing up its contents as well. In other words, iTunes is slowly becoming the integrated software of its time.
Unfortunately iTunes’ gradual evolution means it’s not optimized for anything in particular, which was a major fault of integrated software. That’s why there’s a growing problem with iTunes and the desire to split its functions up into separate programs. Such a break up would simplify tasks, which is what Appel has partially done with their iBooks program for reading and downloading e-books.
The problem with iTunes is simply bloat. The more features you cram into one program, the less useful each feature will be to remain shoe-horned into the user interface of that particular program. In this case, everything has to fit within the design of iTunes whether it makes sense or not. Playing music is straightforward enough, but how does buying a movie or backing up your iPad fit into iTunes logically? It doesn’t, and that’s why Apple needs to break up iTunes.
If you thought iTunes is too clumsy, you’re to alone. Just look back to the past to see how integrated software once worked and then suddenly didn’t. Now you can see the same situation playing out again with iTunes. The goal should be simplifying tasks for the user, not burying multiple tasks inside the same program like Apple has been doing with iTunes.
Like integrated software, iTunes once had its place in the world. Now it needs to return to its roots and separate itself into multiple pieces. That will make everyone happier since each new program can be fully optimized for its tasks. Let’s hope Apple has learned its lesson about integrated software and decides to simplify iTunes once more for the rest of us.