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May 06, 2005

Software: Productivity Vs. Entertainment

If you look at software, you can divide it at a high level into two types: productivity software, and entertainment software.

Using Microsoft's software as an example, Windows is productivity software. Office is productivity software. Hotmail is productivity software. Meanwhile, Xbox games are entertainment software. Ages of Empires is entertainment software. At Microsoft things are weighted more towards productivity software, which reflects the roots of the company when it was primarily focused on productivity software and only published entertainment software on a case-by-case basis (Flight Simulator, Decathlon, etc). And there's no doubt that the company makes all its money on productivity software. Even MSN, which has made many attempts to get into entertainment, is making its money on Search, a productivity application.

You could make the distinction that companies buy productivity software and people buy entertainment software, but of course that division isn't precise. And productivity software can include an entertainment aspect--one of the many reasons for the success of Windows was the "fun" things that were included, such as Solitaire and the ability to play with your desktop colors (leading to the notion of the TCO-destroying "futz factor", the encroachment of entertainment on the productivity space).

It is often helpful to think of your time as having value. In some cases this is directly true; if you're a lawyer billing by the hour, taking an hour off of work costs you $200 or whatever. I don't work hourly, but I probably value my time at somewhere in the $20-$40 range. You use this when you are trying to answer questions like "Is it worth driving an extra 20 minutes to buy gas that is 10 cents a gallon cheaper?" Most people, it would seem, value their personal time at very close to zero.

When you use productivity software, you are trying to trade money for time. You pay a company $X for software and you hope it will save you more than $X in time. With entertainment software, meanwhile, you are paying twice: once for the cost of the software, and again for the time used. I'm not saying this is bad or foolish, just that it's one of the basic distinctions between productivity and entertainment software.

I was thinking about this because I realized that there is another kind of software, which you could categorize as software designed to make your entertainment more productive. Media Center PC is an example from Microsoft; the idea is that it will help you organize your video and audio collection so you can waste less time finding what you want to watch or listen to, and proceed more quickly to the real business of wasting time actually watching or listening.

RSS readers are another example of this. Leaving aside the few people who actually have a business reason to read blogs (just as I'm sure some people use Media Center to make their jobs more efficient), reading blogs is an entertainment function, but RSS readers let you do it more efficiently.

Same goes for podcasting (or videocasting). Listenng to random strangers talk about who knows what is entertainment...but at least with podcasting you can get to what you want to hear more quickly.

I don't read a lot of blogs, watch a lot of television or movies, or listen to a lot of records. It's not how I want to spend my 22,000 days. As a result, I personally take a dim view of this "more productive entertainment" category. If I want to be more productive in my life, I should just stop using the entertainment software. I've bagged on podcasting in the past for this reason. I also wonder if there is money in this. People are paying for the entertainment, and paying with their time; will they pay again for software to increase their entertainment productivity, when most people value their free time at so little?

Still, I realize that many other people disagree with me, and a lot of them work at Microsoft. Sure they may all be propellorheads, but nonetheless I should be careful when I sneer at interactive television and web portals and the rest of the category. It's not my cup of tea, but it takes all sorts to make a world.

Posted by AdamBa at May 6, 2005 09:46 PM

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I really don't see your point.

Anyway I think you might enjoy reading this:

BTW, I've always cosidered "productivity" as another of MS advertisement buzz words, that replace the real word "production". Just like "innovation" replace "invention".
They sound similarly, their meaning is similar, but they do mean different things.

Posted by: Ivan at May 8, 2005 07:32 AM

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Posted by: at May 29, 2005 04:26 AM