Today’s Cane Shaking On the Lawn: Apps

I don’t get apps. Not as in how they work, but why, in fact, they’re called “apps.” Because you know what? They’re programs. They are compendiums of code, compiled in a manner that when you execute them in a computing environment, they perform a specific task. Like a program. Exactly like a program. Because they are programs. So why not call them programs?

It is because programs is an ungroovy kind of word? Is it for the same reason station wagons are now called “crossover vehicles”? Will the hip young things using Foursquare on their iPhone to let the world know their apartments are unoccupied and ripe for looting be filled with horror if their cute little larceny abettor were called a program? Does the word conjure up intolerable images of a chunky, misshaven nerd, hovering asthmatically over a Commodore 64, waiting the 20 minutes until Omega Race downloads off the cassette by strapping on a feedbag of Cheetos and Mallomars and settling down with the latest copy of Byte? Is the word really that bad?

I certainly admit that “app” is a nice phoneme of a word, and that “program” doesn’t lend itself to such shortening; “There’s a prog for that” doesn’t quite have the same ring. And I don’t really have a problem calling programs “apps” as long as I can tell my brain it’s short for “application,” which is a specific genus of program, rather than a wholesale replacement of the word. But I don’t think that’s how people generally use the word, and it just makes me want to shake my cane and get the kids off my lawn. Recently I read a piece about what it will mean when we switch over to app-based operating systems, and I was all, what? So the new hotness is a screen on which icons are used to access the programs they represent? Just like the Macintosh in 1984? Somebody get me a chair, the future is blowing my goddamned mind.

I like apps. I like the little computers we use to run apps, which fit in my hand and have the same processing and visualizing power a forty pound hulking desktop and a fifty pound CRT screen had a decade ago. I’m not entirely sure why we need a new word to describe these little programs. And while I’m at it, I’m also not sure why you’re still on my lawn.

125 thoughts on “Today’s Cane Shaking On the Lawn: Apps

  1. Dude, Marketing!

    (Also: I didn’t know “application” and “program” weren’t synonyms.)

    (Also, also: I would love to have a screen full of progs. You tap the little icon of Robert Fripp or Steve Hackett and it plays you a seven-minute improvisation.)

  2. “And I don’t really have a problem calling programs “apps” as long as I can tell my brain it’s short for “application,” which is a specific genus of program, rather than a wholesale replacement of the word.”

    I think the specific genus is applicable (no pun intended) in this case, since apps are largely aimed at doing one specific function or set of closely related functions. From Wikipedia: “In computer science, an application is a computer program designed to help people perform an activity. An application thus differs from an operating system (which runs a computer), a utility (which performs maintenance or general-purpose chores), and a programming language (with which computer programs are created).”

    Program is a much, much broader term. I think the use of application to describe iPod style programs is accurate, thereby justifying the usage of “app.”

    However!

    “Recently I read a piece about what it will mean when we switch over to app-based operating systems, and I was all, what?”

    Whoever used the term “app-based operating systems” was an idiot. So, that’s a perfectly valid thing to shake your cane at!

  3. Actually, I think app isn’t short for application, but for applet. An applet being a mini-application, obviously, but also containing the word apple, so a nice little marketing trick.

  4. There actually is a real computer-science meaning for the word “application”, although it is has admittedly been obscured by innumerable layers of marketing varnish. Basically the word “application” distinguishes programs that actually do something you want, from the mostly hidden programs that run the underlying system, which are called “system software”. The thing that runs your phone’s screen isn’t an “app”, for instance, nor is the file system that it holds your music in, although both of them are programs.

  5. I know exactly what you mean, but I was quited amused to read this, then within a few minutes find an article at Mobile Tech Manor:

    “Mobile Tech Manor #98: Apps, Not Programs”
    http://jkontherun.com/2010/07/23/mobile-tech-manor-98-apps-not-programs/

    He makes the point that “apps” is a new term describing small, tightly focused applications that generally solve a single problem or do a single task well, rather than doing a category of tasks. I think he has a good point that it’s part of a new way of thinking about how we interact with our computing devices.

  6. Like DemetriosX, I’ve always thought of smartphone apps and Facebook apps as “small applications”, or “mini-applications”.

  7. And while I’m at it, I’m also not sure why you’re still on my lawn.

    You are putting on a show, where else would we watch from?

  8. There *is* probably a cane-shaking App. You press the cute little cartoon codger, and you get R. Lee Ermey telling people to get off your lawn, or something.

    [... and if there isn't one, I have just demonstrated prior art; please cut me in on the profits.]

    Then again, I have no goddamned idea, because my cell phone is eight years old, and does exactly three things – voice communication, text messaging, and stores names/numbers of people I am unlikely to tell to get off my lawn.

  9. I don’t know when programs changed to applications, but my hubbin is in the software business and he’s called them applications for a long time. Not sure how to date it.

    Or, like some of y’all say, apps designate a specific subset of programs.

  10. There’s also the word-wrap issue. You might think that “App” just a nice phoneme, but “Program Store” doesn’t fit on a single line on the iPhone home page, and since that’s the likely origin of the word…

  11. I don’t mind apps for programs, but I get very edgy if you say you wrote a program when you really wrote a script http://bit.ly/9JQ2B9

    Very persnickety, I know. I get mildly annoyed when people use the word “loose” when they lose something. :)

  12. But by that definition, most of the unix tools are apps. grep? more? They are small, tightly focused applications that do a single task well. Even some of the tools which are essentially tiny programming languages would fit because they’re made to facilitate writing one line programs on the fly — for example,
    sed s/teh/the/ filegood.txt
    That is actually faster than opening up the file in a text editor, going to find and replace, doing it, then saving as a different file.

  13. Hasn’t it been a very long time since anyone used the word ‘program’ to describe something that runs on a computer (outside of a computer science classroom, that is)? The generally accepted term for things that you use and install on a desktop computer – word processors, web browsers, etc. – has been ‘application’ for quite some time. So it doesn’t seem so strange that the iPhone should call its applications apps, though I agree that ‘app-based operating system’ is a meaningless phrase.

  14. Technically, that’s my lawn. It was stolen from my ancestors via virtually-infected blankets with all kinds of viruses (Smallprogs!). I just haven’t had a chance to get off my Commodore 64 to yell at the digital government that decided on “apps” to reclaim it.

  15. yeah, I think the basic gist of it is that a program could be anything that is executable code, including stuff a user would never relate to as a “program” they would run. i.e. an operating system just “is” to most people. It’s a program. But its not an application. And there are a LOT of programs (compiled executable code) in the operating systems in teh iphone and droid phones.

    Applications are what users get to do whatever specific thing they want to do.

    And while I’m at it, I’m also not sure why you’re still on my lawn.

    I started walking as soon as I saw you shaking your cane. The only reason I haven’t gotten off your lawn yet is because it’s so damn big.

  16. I don’t have an app-capable phone. App-capable phones have cameras. Phone cameras create problems at the security checkpoint at work.

    Also, if I had a lawn I would also be telling you to get off it.

  17. What about the prefix “giga-”? Only once IN MY ENTIRE LIFE (in the movie Back To The Future) have I heard this pronounced correctly.

    And what about “rip”? It means Raster Image Processing, i.e. to convert a vector-based image to a bitmapped image. And yet almost everyone uses it to mean simply “burn to a cd”.

    Damn kids!

  18. this is not to mention that many of these “apps” are just website runarounds trying to get around the fact that you can’t really use the normal internet on such a device.

  19. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the origin of “app” is not shortening applet.

    And despite how James Kendrick describes using apps on his PDA years ago, no one called them apps back then.

    The term “app” became shorthand for an application when Mac OS X came out and Apple started using .app as the the three letter identifier for an application bundle, but only among Apple developers, though presumably NeXT used it that way first.

    App may have come to mean small, tightly focused, applications that run on smart phones or PDA’s to many people. But that’s not why Apple is using the term.

    Indeed it is now possible to write huge, sprawling, unfocused apps for smart phones and PDA’s. You could still sell them to businesses, it’s just that consumers are unlikely to buy them. So there isn’t much of that on the App Store.

  20. I think there’s an app for watching the grass grow on Scalzi’s lawn. And one for taking photos of his cats. And photos of the sunsets from his lawn.

    In fact, I think Scalzi may BE an app!

    Inception!

  21. I came over to point out that an “app” is short for “application” which is a specific kind of program on your computer, but I see that it has been covered (multiple times) already. So can I just get my ball back, mister?

  22. #24 – You rip songs FROM a CD, _then_ you burn them to a CD-R. If you’re living in the 90s. Nowadays, you download a song from iTunes or Amazon.

    Wow, this is a pretty sweet lawn you got here, old timer.

  23. From what I can tell, at least from a computer industry point of view, application is to describe computer programs because “program” has a totally different meaning in corporate speak (and I often confuse it with pogrom because that’s how I view corporations). Any way, my current job is described in the job description as application support. I keep applications running. I have nothing to do with “programs” which are wide ranging corporate power plays designed to increase market share, provide the illusion of shareholder value (is that redundant?), and earn top level exeuctives bigger bonuses at the expense of the tens of thousands of people who make it possible for them to earn those bonuses.

  24. He makes the point that “apps” is a new term describing small, tightly focused applications that generally solve a single problem or do a single task well, rather than doing a category of tasks. I think he has a good point that it’s part of a new way of thinking about how we interact with our computing devices.

    The 1970s called; Unix wants its design philosophy back.

  25. #24 – “What about the prefix “giga-”? Only once IN MY ENTIRE LIFE (in the movie Back To The Future) have I heard this pronounced correctly.”

    Giga, being a Greek prefix derived from gigas (giant), would be “correctly” pronounced with a hard G (voiced velar plosive). Back to the Future’s “jiggawatts” represented a move by the US NBS in the 60s-80s to try to formalize a different pronunciation. When originally concocted in the 20s, the intent was to use the hard G.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giga
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiced_velar_stop

    (Unless, of course, you were being sarcastic, in which case I’ll look like a dork ;))

  26. John, I’ve never seen you so wrong before. :)

    Everybody else has hit on the “app” vs. “program” subject so I’ll comment on this instead:

    “Recently I read a piece about what it will mean when we switch over to app-based operating systems, and I was all, what? So the new hotness is a screen on which icons are used to access the programs they represent? Just like the Macintosh in 1984? Somebody get me a chair, the future is blowing my goddamned mind.”

    The new hotness–which I’m genuinely excited about–is operating systems that are not exposed to the user. It’s getting rid of an arcane and somewhat broken file system metaphor where you digitally “file” something into a “folder” that you then have to “remember where the ^#$@ you put it two years later.”

    Instead data is tied to the app that creates it. It’s certainly comes with a great deal of limitations when compared to current operating systems, but it also comes with a great deal of benefits. Like better security, ease-of-use and being able to find that ^#$@ file two years later.

    An app-based operating system–and I’m not going to debate the name because I can’t think of a better one–is an operating system that my 70 year old mother can use. The current ones? Not so much.

  27. Mr. Scalzi, allow me to pick a nit: the phrase “nice phoneme of a word” makes even less sense than “app-based operating system” to anyone who actually knows what “phoneme” means. A phoneme is the smallest distinctive unit of sound in a language, and the word “app” has at least two phonemes: the “a” sound and the “p” sound. Furthermore, saying “phoneme of a word” is just a category mismatch, like saying “cute app of an OS”.

    OK, nitpicking done. I loved the rest of the article.

  28. Chat Clussman:

    “It’s getting rid of an arcane and somewhat broken file system metaphor where you digitally ‘file’ something into a ‘folder’ that you then have to ‘remember where the ^#$@ you put it two years later.’”

    iOS4 would like a word with you, Chat.

  29. @ 14 Rafe Brox – I would totally pay good money for a *ahem* cell-phone feature involving R. Lee Ermey yelling to get off his lawn. I don’t own a cell phone that is compatible with those *ahem* cell-phone features, but I would still pay to have it.

    Better than the vuvuzela app, if nothing else.

  30. It’s an “app” because it is an application. See above by, well, almost everyone.

    The key point being that applications run on top of the OS layer. Hevens forfend that Apple would let us prols touch or even get close enought to veiw their holy and sancrosanct operating system.

    I agree entirely that whe word “app” is a stupid cutsey affectation.

  31. But here’s what I’d really like to know…

    Who was the genius who came up with the slogan “There’s a nap for that”?

    Always good advice. Think I’ll go have a lie-down…

  32. #33: “Instead data is tied to the app that creates it. It’s certainly comes with a great deal of limitations when compared to current operating systems, but it also comes with a great deal of benefits. Like better security, ease-of-use and being able to find that ^#$@ file two years later.”

    Right, so every spreadsheet I’ve made since I’ve been using spreadsheets should be stored in the system folders for View*Calc[1], Visicalc, Lotus123, Improv, Quattro, Excel, Numbers. That’ll make it really easy to find any specific worksheet from the last 26 years or so.

    [1] on the BBC Micro ~1984 or thereabouts.

    While I agree that the current file systems exposed to the use need some work, filing things under “Area of Focus”/”Project” (i.e.: internet/2010_find_a_new_isp) works pretty well for me for both working on stuff and finding it later.

  33. For the most part I think they’re synonyms.

    Apps is btr 2 TXT. U sve 8 lttrs w/ it.

    I see what you’re saying though. The English language continually finds new ways to express the unneccessary truncation of words. We should entirely abrogate this practice and only use antique words where contemporary, diminutive ones will do. I say: if it cannot be found in a dictionary of 1865, then cease and desist employing that word. I cannot pontificate further on the topic, however, as I must cease operating my personal computer to navigate my automobile to my domocile.

  34. “Somebody get me a chair, the future is blowing my goddamned mind.”

    Thanks. I didn’t need my morning coffee anyway, it’s much better served on my keyboard.

    Also, I think ‘There’s a prog for that’ has a pretty good ring to it. I’ll see how many people I can get to start using it . . .

  35. As an app developer, I’m wondering where and when I can pick up my free feedbag and copy of Byte.

  36. I went from a “plain vanilla cell phone” to droidX.
    Yeah, I have no freakin idea what these apps are, what I should do with them, why some of them seem to be doing the same things, and learning how to just navigate on this behemoth is an adventure almost akin to hobbits in LOTR.
    I have never felt so lost and out of my league in my life. And I refuse categorically to be made into an idiot by this phone, so I WILL conquer this.
    But I do think there ought to be a class. Some kind of $39.99 half day webinar that shows me – how to use it, what the cool apps are, the most efficient way to get rid of the crap on it, etc.

    4 hours and 39.99 and someone would get rich and I would get happy.
    Someone step forward and do this immediately.

  37. Applications for handheld devices are called “apps” for the same reason that “Coca-Cola” is called “Coke.” Shorter, easier to use in ad copy.

    Language is a non-linear dynamic system, full of strange attractors. Deal with it. Meanwhile, I’ll be playing frisbee on your lawn.

  38. @Chat at #33: My husband would absolutely hate that system. He already has programs that “hide” where the file is except when inside the program that created it, and he hates it and would much prefer to be able to find them on his own so that dragging them to a jump drive or whatever wasn’t such a hassle. Me? I use the Search function in the Finder.

  39. @ #32 – Wasn’t being sarcastic. Why do we pronounce “gigantic”, etc. with a soft-g sound? Same root. The dictionary I had in high school didn’t even list the hard-g as an alternative pronunciation, although of course modern dictionaries list the hard-g first. But thanks for all the info. This is what I get for not studying Ancient Greek.

  40. I think it’s an outgrowth of how people think about the device. The programs are of course the software the device runs, but conceptually, what you actually use the device for is the application.

    Before these programs, the iPhone was just a smartphone. But when you could use it for things other than the designers originally intended, that was the “killer app”, or rather, one long string of killer apps.

  41. Wow, I’m older than you, and you’re a cranky old man now.

    This gem in my palm is blinking red, too.

  42. Hi! I’m a programmer. I write programs.

    Some of those programs are for you eloi to use. Those are applications. Others are for my fellow morlocks. Those we generally call tools. Some are for other programs to use. Those are services. We also make some things with more esoteric purposes, or no purpose at all. Those are still programs, but they are not apps.

    I hope that clears it up. The reason everything on a Commodore 64 was a program? There were no eloi then. It was a simpler time. But we morlocks eat better now, so I’m not complaining.

  43. Has anyone considered why term “program” would be appropriate in the first place?

    In the olden days (say > 10 years ago), “application” was already being used for end-user suites of programs actuated with graphic user interfaces.

    “App” is a more conversationally smooth reference, and exists because people who are immersed in worlds of “applications” find a 4 syllable word inefficient.

    Use of the word “app” implies that those promoting a device as a platform for a whole semi-open system tailored by the end user, will have many “apps”, and talk about them.

    And yes, I agree that “crossover” vehicles, like their SUV forebears, are functionally “station wagons”, without the childhood embarrassment (minivans serve that purpose).

  44. On the Mac, programs have always been called applications.

    When Apple released the iPhone and iTunes App Store, they called them apps.

    Why? Because, well, they could.

  45. Just wondering, is there an annotation app for hard sf? Because I’d like one, please. I’m actually quite perturbed at myself for not having read Neal Stephenson’s Anathem yet. It’s here . . . next to my Macbook Air . . . leering at me. I want to open it, but yet I don’t. I just can’t commit a couple of months to it. Yet. That said, I just read Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End for the second time, hanging on every word, no annotated version needed, thank you very much. PostScript: I know who the Rabbit is . . .

  46. @ #49 “Why do we pronounce “gigantic”, etc. with a soft-g sound? Same root.”

    This is an interesting one, because in the same word, you have two instances of varied pronunciation, from a root with the same letter in both places (Gamma).

    Turns out: blame the French.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/giant

    gigas (Gr.) -> gigas (L.) -> geant (O.Fr.) -> giant

    Gigantic being an obvious permutation of Giant, the strange pronunciation becomes more clear.

    What can I say? Etymology is a (very) minor hobby. ;)

  47. Speaking as a mid-career programmer, ‘app’ has never been Mac- or OSX-specific. The first time I heard ‘application’ and ‘app’ was back when Apple was in the process of shitcanning their clone licensing agreements (and no, I didn’t have the foresight to buy their stock then either).

    If anything is responsible for the popularization of the term ‘app’, I’d look squarely at Java and applets. So… in this case, I’d say that you’ve lost the rights to this particular part of your lawn through open and notorious possession, John. It’s our turf (as it were) now.

  48. John @ #36:

    I don’t think so. They introduced folders to organize your apps. A few hundred apps in a few dozen folders is not in the same hemisphere as a few hundred thousand files in a few thousand folders.

    That’s not to say I think they’ve created the perfect system. You still have to dock to a normal computer with a normal file system and it’s much too hard, and in many cases impossible, to shift files and data between apps.

    Lunamoth @ #48:

    A lot of people who are already good at using computers are loathe to use an app-driven model and I’m pretty sure there will always be options available to them. But the majority of people want their computing experiences to be greatly simplified.

    This is a retread of when the iPad debuted and most of the hardcore geeks were whining about it because, to them, it was a dumbed down device. But it was never for them.

  49. Probably the best specific example I can think of, regarding what seems to be the accepted difference between an app(lication) and a program, is Windoze itself. Back in 3.1 days, it was an (admittedly broad-scale) application, running under DOS, whereas now it’s a full-blown OS program under which apps run.

    OK, 3.1 was a hybrid in one sense — it insisted on using its own memory-manager setup instead of whatever you used under DOS (I was particularly fond of QEMM).

  50. It might be hard for you to believe this, but we all know deep down women want to date a programmer. They can’t take their eyes off of us once we tell them we code for a living. Whenever I tell a woman how a pointer works she can’t take her eyes off me.

  51. Here in corp-IT-land we tend to use “Application” to mean “group of programs that provide a service” – since many applications consist of many underlying services or engines. Apps is definitely short for Applications in these parts, although maybe not among the great washed masses of Iphone users. Our programming group is called AppsDev and that’s true at nearly all of the other places I’ve worked, too.

    NextStep had an Apps directory to hold applications that were not part of the operating system, from what I recall (it’s been a while) and I would guess Mac OS has something similar, so this is most likely a continuation of that usage. But I don’t think they coined it.

  52. Oooh, Internet Linguistics!

    I thought it had to do with network naming conventions and the seven-layer OSI model. The topmost layer is commonly referred to as the Application layer, and is the realm of HTTP (among a lot of others).

    I heard this name shortened to the phrase ‘App Layer’ 15 years ago when I was doing tech support for dialup ISPs.

    The term probably jumped then from network techs to webmasters and service staff: remember that in the earlier days of dialup, ISPs usually sold web development and tech support services too. Outsourcing was uncommon, and all those people were usually under the same roof. An ‘App’ became anything on the ‘App Layer.

  53. “And while I’m at it, I’m also not sure why you’re still on my lawn.”

    ‘Cause my Frisbee is still on your roof!

  54. There *is* probably a cane-shaking App. You press the cute little cartoon codger, and you get R. Lee Ermey telling people to get off your lawn, or something.

    I was thinking more like Clint Eastwood, in Gran Torino.

  55. As long as we’re being pedantic here, in the Java world, an applet is a program that can be downloaded and run in your Web browser rather than run as a separate, er, application on your desktop machine.

    (So goes the theory. In practice, of course, it is a program that you try to download and run in your Web browser only to discover that your browser’s Java plugin is running the wrong version of Java, and once you spend five minutes upgrading everything, you try to download it again, and you run it, and your browser crashes. Which is why we don’t hear much about Java applets these days.)

  56. Eh? Speak UP sonny!! And don’t wave that damn shot gun at ME!!! Why, back in MY day we handcoded assembler. IN THE SNOW.

  57. Chat:
    “ease-of-use and being able to find that ^#$@ file two years later.”

    you know you can name the files, right? right?

  58. Most apps are not programs that can stand alone; they are applications of the functionality of a framework. This is true to a certain extent for almost all modern “programs,” but I think that is why the word “application” is gradually displacing the word “program.”

  59. All I know is Star Trek promised me computers I could talk to but what I got was a telephone I type on.

  60. This is so completely off-topic, but: I’ve spent the past 10 minutes trying to clean my screen, and I just realized that it’s not dirty — you [Scalzi] have a picture of yourself that shows up as a very light background, but only in your comments.

    At least, I assume it’s a picture of you. Could be a picture of Wheaton.

  61. Oh, for the dark ages, when nothing changed for generations (and there was a moat and a big wall around your lawn to prevent people from standing on it).

  62. Scalzi, I normally agree with you, but today you have it ALL wrong….

    “programs” are electronic gladiators with glowy frisbee disks and lightcycles battling it out in the grid.

    Some “programs” get a little buggy (ie Tron and Flynn) and crash your device… nothing a POST won’t solve.

  63. Is it for the same reason station wagons are now called “crossover vehicles”?

    yes

    next question?

  64. Long story short.

    App as used by Apple totally makes sense.

    Everyone else went “Holy ^&$%^, those guys are making money hand over fist, it must be because they call them apps! Must copy everything”

  65. Apps is what they’re called. The different theories of how they came to be called that are interesting. My first thought was front-truncation from “killer app”, which was itself rear-truncation from “killer application”. I think of applications as being user-land programs that do user things, as opposed to my tools.

    Crossover vehicle, though, I understand, having owned one of the very first, the Subaru Outback. Subaru Legacy wagon + high ground clearance (like an SUV) via a factory mod + a decal on the rear –> the first crossover vehicle, the Outback. They are high ground clearance station wagons (and our next car will probably be yet another Outback, unless they take the headroom away.)

  66. As others have already beaten the app->application horse, I’ll just chime in to say that I find ‘app’ to be a perfectly cromulent word.

  67. “Eh? Speak UP sonny!! And don’t wave that damn shot gun at ME!!! Why, back in MY day we handcoded assembler. IN THE SNOW.”

    Assembler? Well, la dee dah! What we would have given to be able to code in assembler! We were happy just to have a hex keypad to type our machine code into a Z80! And our only output was two LED-bytes and a wire to an oscilloscope. Kids these days with their programing languages and CRT’s just don’t understand a real day’s work, I tell you.

  68. “There’s an old story about the person who wished his computer were as easy to use as his telephone. That wish has come true, since I no longer know how to use my telephone.”

    — Bjarne Stroustrup, the inventor of the C++ programming language

  69. Ah phones these days, can do everything but speak to people on them.

    What I was doing on your lawn…just planting a few armeria flowers…they’re pretty, honest.

  70. Assembler? Hex Keypads? You had it easy!

    I remember having to use REAL SWITCHES* – that had all of two positions – On, and Off! Entering the bootloader for a PDP11/45 on the single-word binary-switch ‘keypad’ was a heap of fun, let me tell you! Old Johnny never could get the hang of it – somehow always muddled the middle bits. Oh, how we laughed!

    Them were the days of REAL programming!

    now get off my lawn!

    *True

  71. Switches? LEDs Switches were a luxury and lamps were neon or grain-of-wheat. We chewed holes in paper tape, and damned be those with wet mouths! (CDC 160)

  72. Regarding that ‘app-based operating system.’ You know what that really is? A return to dumb terminal/mainframe style computing. We’ve got that at the bank I work at, though they call it “VDI” now or “app-based OS.” You just have a little Sun box on your desk that you use to jack into the VM farm and you access your virtual desktop from there.

    This is the computing of tomorrow – courtesy of yesterday.

  73. well, someone beat me to the “paper tape” or “punch card” rant so I’ll just be glad I don’t have to do it that way anymore.

    I mean, think IBM 360 and a program that takes 8,500+ cards to load. I spent three weeks debugging that thing in college. Turned me off of programming completely. Now I’m a hardware, not software type of guy and I’m HAPPY 8D

  74. re: surfwax
    ‘“programs” are electronic gladiators with glowy frisbee disks and lightcycles battling it out in the grid.’

    program -> Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner
    app -> Olivia Wilde

  75. And it’s not a “laptop”, goddammit! It’s a “laptop COMPUTER” – a COMPUTER that goes on your LAPTOP! I bet you’re getting tons of extra work done in the time it would have taken to say two words instead of one.

    By cracky!

  76. “applet”=apple+t. Can’t have that now, can we?

    Scalzi,

    You just don’t get it; Steve Jobs is cooool. The rest of us aren’t.

    Or, maybe it’s just me, or you, or her?

  77. I work in IT, a very large chunk of a medium sized not for profit, and we haven’t written programs in many years. We have applications and developers, not programs and programmers. Actually we’re moving away from the developer designation to engineer, as I recall. I don’t track these fashions very well. When you get old enough you recognize that fashions repeat (and you cease to care). You’re just not old enough yet.

  78. @ 96 Granny J – In 1982 I worked for Prentice Hall and we published a book by venerable futurologist and information technology bod James Martin called Application Development Without Programmers (his 29th book, it would appear from this list), so I suppose your experience is the sort of thing he was on about.

  79. Does the word conjure up intolerable images of a chunky, misshaven nerd, hovering asthmatically over a Commodore 64, waiting the 20 minutes until Omega Race downloads off the cassette by strapping on a feedbag of Cheetos and Mallomars and settling down with the latest copy of Byte?

    So, did you have to Google any of that, or was it just stream-of-consciousness?

  80. While we’re on the topic of extraneous words, how about “truthiness”? I’m as big a Colbert-taunting-the-Right-Wing-shtick as anyone, but doesn’t “truthiness” really just provide the same usage as “verisimilitude”? Just askin’.

  81. Brian,

    Think about it. Verisimilitude means it looks true. Truthiness is sort of an order of magnitude less than verisimilitude.

    Irony anyone?

    Or are we back in the Department of Redundancy Department?

  82. I think “app” really does represent a new kind of computer program and new style of usage.

    “Program” or even “application” for most people is associated with something you install on a personal computer. It comes on a CD or DVD, but costs much more than a movie. (If you buy online, you’re basically downloading a disk image.) You look for reviews and seek other opinions before buying. You install it with trepidation (assuming you’ve owned a PC for more than a month already) because this will require administrator privileges, and probably screw up something else that’s installed.

    Once you have programs on your personal computer, you worry about viruses and malware. You’ll be advised it’s good practice to reformat and reinstall the whole PC every year or two just to clean out the crap.

    (Yes, Mac and Linux owners can feel smug at this point. I’m one myself – doesn’t change the fact that the majority of PC owners consider this normal behaviour.)

    Contrast this with “apps” as made famous by the iPhone:

    You always buy them off the net, no physical media. Installing is a snap.

    They’re so cheap that it’s hardly worth looking for reviews. Like different flavours of chocolate, just buy half a dozen and see which ones you prefer. If you don’t like an app, it’s no worse than walking out of a bad movie.

    They’re safe. Absolutely safe. This I think is severely under-rated by the geeky. *Knowing* that your phone/tablet won’t be screwed up by installing a new app gives confidence to do so.

    (Of course, the down side is that if somebody does manage to sneak a stealth piece of malware into a popular app, the fallout for Apple will be spectacular and possibly fatal.)

    And yeah there are a lot of fart apps. So what? I for one am overjoyed to see so many people having fun with their computer programs, even if they don’t use the words that I do.

    All in all, it’s a really interesting development in computing, and deserves a new word.

  83. Omega Race loaded from a ROM cartridge when I wrote it way back when; hardly enough time to eat a single cheeto :-)

  84. Hugh @101 (I think… mobile format strips the comment numbers):

    Part of what you’ve mentioned kinda-sorta scares me – the race to the bottom in app pricing. Niche apps are expensive to develop – iPhone versions of ‘serious’ apps cost serious money to develop, and are priced accordingly – but the app-buying public (or, more importantly, the iPhone-using, non-techie purchasing manager) doesn’t understand why an app should cost more than, say, a maximum of $3.99USD.

    In the meantime, there are bottom-feeding companies churning out crappy app after crappy app, using spamming/seo techniques to game the ratings system, cashing in on $0.99USD downloads, further weakening the expectations of the app-buying public.

    Interesting times to work for a small software company, that’s for sure.

  85. When I was a kid our Atari
    was carved from an old apple tree
    and we used garden hose to connect it
    to our steam-powered color TV…

    Now get off my lawn!

  86. so, after unboxing everything from my DroidX order, I discovered that when you tell the salesguy on the phone that you want a car mount, that is literally what you get: a car mount. No power cord from cigarette lighter to microUSB. Just a mount.

    gadammit.

    Also, micro USB??? Are you freaking kidding me? All the miniUSB chargers I have are worthless.

    gargleblargle.

    Also, my Pentium 4 (shut up) would not recognize my Droid. Not sure if it can operate as a USB drive or not. Was hoping to move files around via USB. Haven’t figured out if it’s too ancient of a PC or if I need a driver or something.

    And finally, I’m still trying to figure out this whole “app store” thingy. I tried finding the “livestrong” weightloss app. A bunch of searches could not find it. Aggravating.

  87. I’ve been a programmer for 4 decades – a program is the instructions to the computer. While we call what the user submits a “program”, it is more accurate to say he runs the program to do the application.

    The user doesn’t care about how the application runs – the program that I wrote. It is the application that he is running.

  88. OK, this comment freaks me out:

    “He makes the point that “apps” is a new term describing small, tightly focused applications that generally solve a single problem or do a single task well, rather than doing a category of tasks. I think he has a good point that it’s part of a new way of thinking about how we interact with our computing devices.”

    This means that “apps” were invented around 1970 at Bell Labs, because that is specifically the distinction between UNIX apps (ahem) and the traditional mainframe apps. A UNIX app like “cat” or “grep” does one thing well, and interacts with other “apps” to do more complex tasks using a user interface designed to make it easy for a person to glue “apps” together.

  89. OK, weird. The 2 USB connectors in the front of my ancient cthulhu-era PC won’t recognize the DroidX. The ones in the back do. Annoyingly weird.

    also, 16G isn’t much room for all my music. I never really had a portable MP3 player before, so I never had to worry about space. But clearly, the music on my raid drive won’t all fit on my droid.

    And the 32Gig microSD card is a bit steep yet.

    And somewhere along the line, some computer designer introduced yet another acronym. I don’t even know what DLNA is, but my Droid said make sure my PC supports it.

    Crimeny, where did I leave my cane?

    I did get some of the old-school headphones. Not the in-your-ear buds, but the big honking 70′s-style headphones. I figure I’ll mostly be listening to it at work and I never found a pair of ear-buds that were really that comfortable after wearing them for a while. Maybe I’ve got tiny ear canals. Maybe I’m getting old.

  90. Weel, those of us in the biz don’t refer to the things we let users use as “programs.” We refer to them as “applications” or “apps.”

    Now, when making a little thing for debugging, or some utility that helps us make apps, we will sometimes make a program.

    But users don’t get programs, and programs don’t get deployed to end-user platforms.

    It’s been this way for years.

  91. …as long as I can tell my brain it’s short for “application,” which is a specific genus of program, rather than a wholesale replacement of the word. But I don’t think that’s how people generally use the word…

    That’s exactly how they’re using it. They don’t use “app” to refer to the operating system of the phone, which is also a program (or a collection of programs).

    As a programmer, I find the term convenient. I’ve written mobile OS library code and I’ve also written mobile OS apps. They’re very different kinds of programming, and it’s useful to distinguish between them.

  92. Well, App – for Application is a type of end user program, as distinct for an Operating System Service or utility, which th application, or users may use to control the operating system on the device. All of these are programs, with different design goals.
    Daemons are services that run in the operating system, and maynot necessarily belong to a single user. A client application my talk to a service being provided by this daemon. The Daemon is also a program.

    And yes, using an App is much nicer to say than using a Prog, and more technically accurate.
    “I ride an animal” is just as correct as saying “I ride a horse”, but one is more accurate (if you are actually riding a horse at the time)

  93. It reminds me of the Mother Goose and Grimm comic strip from a month or so ago.

    Three cavemen are sitting around a fire and one is holding a stick cooking something. He says to the other two, “It’s got an app for heating, an app for cooking, an app for lighting, an app for . . . “

  94. Tully, the song goes:

    When I was a boy our Nintendo
    was carved from an old apple tree.
    And we used garden hose to connect it
    To our steam-powered color TV…

    But it sure beat that ancient Attari,
    ’cause I almost went blind, don’cha know,
    playing breakout, and pong, on a video game,
    that was hooked up to our radio…

  95. “It is because programs is an ungroovy kind of word? Is it for the same reason station wagons are now called “crossover vehicles”?”

    You could have stopped after that because the answer is “Yes.” and “Yes.” It’s not that big of a deal.

  96. MrToothDecay:

    “You could have stopped after that because the answer is ‘Yes.’”

    MrToothDecay, obviously thinking that just because you know the answer you then need to stop ranting. Silly, silly, MrToothDecay.

  97. I don’t participate in too many threads so when I do I come back and check on them…eventually.

    @75 Mike:

    I’m pretty sure that I have been naming the files. The question is, can I remember what I named them years later? And most of the time the answer to that is, sadly, no.

    My wetware needs an upgrade.

    @91 Eridani:

    App-based models are agnostic about where the data is stored. As an example, HTML5, which is being pushed by Apple and Google both, includes offline, *local* storage.

    @122 MrToothDecay & @124 John Scalzi:

    Man, if that were the case we wouldn’t have blogs.

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