Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Software-as-a-Service, The: Historical Perspectives on the Computer Utility and Software

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot


Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel D. Garcia-Swartz


W. Aspray and P. Ceruzzi, editors, The Commercialized Internet and Its Impact (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2007)


This paper recounts the business history of software and computing.

Policy Relevance

Different models of computer business now compete with one another.

Main Points

  • Computing services can be provided to users through central computers connected to many remote users (like Google Docs). Variations of this business model include “software-as-a-service.” Computing power resides on the central computer.


  • Computing services can be provided by many personal computers, each dedicated to a local user (like Microsoft Word). Most computing power is dispersed to many end users.


  • Over time, where computer power resides tends to shift.
    • Early central computing services arose in the 1950s, and re-emerged from the 1960s to the 1970s.
    • The availability of cheaper personal computers in the 1980s dispersed computing power to users.
    • Central computing has been reborn with the Internet. Networking costs have fallen to let it compete with PCs.

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