Proactive developers have been including application programming interfaces (API) which allow other software systems to easily share data and co-exist. In many cases tools have been developed to specifically enable functions which the core software lacks, including manipulation and analysis of the data. Here’s an overview of how external tools deliver real value.
Back in 1978 two guys named Steve introduced their Apple computer to the Home Brew Computer Club in northern California. Club members loved it.
But customers didn’t at first. Very few units were sold because customers couldn’t imagine a productive use for a computer in their home. Hard to believe? Perhaps. So you may be wondering what changed.
Applications Are Everything
Once VisiCalc, the visible calculator, was released in 1979 everything changed. Now customers had an application they could understand and find useful. It’s electronic ledger or spreadsheet model was instantly recognizable and comfortable for them. Apple II computers started flying off the shelves so people could learn and use.
Every computer manufacturer since has fully understood the importance of opening their designs to “third-party developers” who would provide everything the manufacturer didn’t.
As applications became more sophisticated and much larger, software developers discovered the same thing was true for them. Third-parties could be depended upon to create all manner of accessory products including utilities, accelerators, report writers, add-ins, snap-ins, drivers, and more.
Microsoft Becomes the Most Successful Third-Party in History
In 1980 through 1981 IBM’s “skunkworks” team working in a secret Boca Raton location under Phillip “Don” Estridge was developing its first personal computer. Based on a Zilog 8088 processor it couldn’t run the more popular software of the day, including WordStar and VisiCalc. They had selected the “p-system” as an operating system for the PC but needed something that would be more compatible with more existing software.
At the same time Bill Gates and his company, Microsoft, were making a deal to purchase the rights to a product named QDoS which was short for “the quick and dirty operating system.”
Gates licensed QDoS which he renamed Microsoft MS-DOS to IBM for use on their new small computer. They renamed their licensing of it as PC-DOS and launched it in August 1981 as one of the choices of operating system available. The rest is history.
Microsoft Becomes the Champion of the Third-Parties
Cottage industries have come and gone that built their success creating third-party products that work along with Microsoft products. They are part of the Microsoft ecosystem.
Nowhere has this been more the case than with the Microsoft Dynamics family of products. Originally called Microsoft Business Solutions, the division was the product of the acquisition of Great Plains accounting software, Solomon, Navision, and Axapta to cover the spectrum of customer businesses.
Dynamics AX quickly became the target platform for augmentation by a wide variety of software developers, many of whom were eventually acquired and incorporated into the main product by Microsoft. Many popular functions were left out at the introduction of the cloud-based version Dynamics 365, opening a door for an even larger community of third-parties to supplement those functions in the cloud.
The Category Killer
It’s likely that, over the years, the most popular third-party application has been the report writer. Every business is different, so it’s unlikely that any collection of standard reports could possibly serve them all. Third-party developers have provided the flexibility to build custom reports.
Microsoft itself has been no exception. Many have found the Excel spreadsheet to be a great utility for taking Dynamics data and creating customized reports, often using powerful capabilities like PivotTables to provide a variety of perspective views of the data. Given the complexity of PivotTables, many companies employ experts to build them for various departments. Their consistent challenge has been the user interface, making it easy for their clients to use the PivotTables they build.
To see an excellent example of a third-party application that makes delivering sophisticated PivotTables and other spreadsheet constructs to business users, talk to MercuryBI today.