Quote Investigator

Software Is Eating the World

Marc Andreessen? Ben Horowitz?

Dear Quote Investigator: The companies Uber and Lyft are worth billions of dollars and are juggernauts in the transportation sector. Yet, neither company owns a fleet of vehicles. The multibillion dollar company Airbnb has revolutionized the hospitality sector, yet it owns no hotels or motels. These companies control pivotal software systems connecting buyers and sellers. I am reminded of the following adage:

Software is eating the world.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Marc Andreessen was the co-author of the first widely used Web browser. He is now an influential venture capitalist. He popularized the adage when he published an essay in “The Wall Street Journal” in 2011. Interestingly, he employed the statement more than a decade earlier.

In October 2000 Marc Andreessen and his business partner Ben Horowitz were interviewed in “CRN: The Newsweekly for Builders of Technology Solutions”. The pair had recently founded the company Loudcloud, a pioneering endeavor in the cloud computing sector. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

HOROWITZ_ As we thought about the new business that we might start, the big barrier to doing any of them was how do we get to technological critical mass? It’s critical, and we really wanted to buy that from somebody. As we were going through that [process], we were like, maybe we should just provide it.

ANDREESSEN_ It dovetails with what we saw at Netscape. The complexity curve of software on major Internet properties like Yahoo and everybody else is growing exponentially. Software is eating the world.

[At Netscape], we were churning out a lot of software products that contributed to that complexity.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In August 2011 Marc Andreessen published the essay titled “Why Software Is Eating The World” in “The Wall Street Journal”. After discussing the importance of software he stated his thesis: 2

In short, software is eating the world.

He included several vivid illustrations, e.g.:

Perhaps the single most dramatic example of this phenomenon of software eating a traditional business is the suicide of Borders and corresponding rise of Amazon. In 2001, Borders agreed to hand over its online business to Amazon under the theory that online book sales were non-strategic and unimportant.
Oops.

The age of automated vehicle navigation is moving closer, and Andreessen’s article also highlighted this development:

Software is also eating much of the value chain of industries that are widely viewed as primarily existing in the physical world. In today’s cars, software runs the engines, controls safety features, entertains passengers, guides drivers to destinations and connects each car to mobile, satellite and GPS networks. . .The trend toward hybrid and electric vehicles will only accelerate the software shift–electric cars are completely computer controlled. And the creation of software-powered driverless cars is already under way at Google and the major car companies.

In October 2011 “VentureBeat” columnist Dylan Tweney presented an opposing perspective in a piece titled “Software is not eating the world” which emphasized the continuing importance of the hardware underlying computer systems: 3

You’ll pay Apple, RIM or Nokia for your phone. You’ll still be paying Intel for the chips, and Intel will still be paying Applied Materials for the million-dollar machines that make those chips.

Software is not eating the world. It’s merely riding on the back of an infrastructure leviathan, like a monkey on an elephant.

In conclusion, Marc Andreessen should receive credit for popularizing this expression. He is also the leading candidate for crafter of the saying.

Image Notes: A Pacman-like figure based on the Tux the penguin mascot of Linux from OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay. Yellow and blue pacman-like figures also from OpenClipart-Vectors.

Notes:

  1. 2000 October 9, CRN: The Newsweekly for Builders of Technology Solutions, Issue 915, CRN interview: Marc Andreessen & Ben Horowitz–Web enablers by Amy Rogers, Start Page 30. End Page 34, CMP Media Inc., Jericho, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 2011 August 20, The Wall Street Journal, Why Software Is Eating The World by Marc Andreessen, Quote Pages n/a, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. Website: VentureBeat: Tech news that matters, Article title: Dylan’s Desk: Software is not eating the world, Article author: Dylan Tweney, Timestamp on website: October 5, 2011 12:00 PM, Website description: Technology news for investors. (Accessed venturebeat.com on January 24, 2018) link