Timeline of SaaS: History and Future of SaaS
Timeline of SaaS: History and Future of SaaS

Software as a Service (SaaS) has transformed the way businesses access and use software. Instead of traditional methods of purchasing and installing software, SaaS offers a subscription-based model where software and services are delivered over the internet. In this article, we’ll explore the history and evolution of SaaS and what the future holds for this groundbreaking technology.

Evolution of Internet Software in Cloud Computing

1950s: Mainframe Systems

The journey of SaaS begins in the 1950s when a new type of software emerged on mainframe systems. These early systems were quite different from the operating systems we know today.

1960s: Midrange and Minicomputers

During the 1960s, early computer programming was done on midrange or minicomputers. Each application required coding in its own unique language, making software development a complex and fragmented process.

1970s: Personal Computers

The 1970s brought a shift with applications that you could install on your personal computer or microcomputer. This marked the beginning of a more user-friendly software experience.

1980s: Rise of Personal Computers

By the 1980s, personal computers had become commonplace in offices and homes. They came equipped with personal computer application suites like Microsoft Word and Lotus 1-2-3, making data organization more accessible.

1990s: Transition to SaaS

Enterprise application suites began moving away from mainframe computers and adopted the client-server architecture in the 1990s, setting the stage for SaaS.

1998: Multi-Tenant SaaS Emerges

The pivotal year 1998 witnessed the creation of the first multi-tenant SaaS application, a significant milestone in the SaaS industry’s development.

2000s: Efficiency in Sales

In the 2000s, businesses started investing in software designed to enhance sales efficiency. These programs were tailored for specific purposes and included solutions like Salesforce, setting the stage for SaaS dominance in the coming years.

2010: Salesforce Leads the Way

In 2010, Salesforce showcased the future of software delivery by emphasizing SaaS. SaaS applications were refined to encompass virtually everything previously bundled in traditional software.

Early History of the Software Industry (1960s-1980s)

The history of SaaS may not be as extensive as some other fields, but its origins can be traced back to the 1960s when large businesses adopted the first software as a service. During this era, only large enterprises could afford the expensive and bulky computers required for software usage. Smaller companies relied on utility computing systems and time-sharing, enabling them to access computing resources without hefty investments.

In the 1980s, time-sharing systems continued to be in use until computers became more affordable and powerful. As personal computers became more prevalent, the preference shifted towards locally installed applications and software.

SaaS in the 1980s and 1990s

SaaS started gaining traction in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the cost of computers decreased, the internet expanded, and employees began to have their own computers at work. This transition reduced the reliance on time-sharing systems.

Before the widespread adoption of computers, businesses depended on a hub-and-spoke system for data storage and sharing. Employees had limited access to crucial information stored at other company branches or centralized servers. To manage their networks, companies began hiring network managers/admins to ensure smooth operations, data backup, hardware/software maintenance, and other relevant tasks.

Small businesses often struggled with these roles due to budget constraints and the challenge of finding qualified personnel. This scenario began to change as computers became more affordable and network managers became increasingly essential.

ASPs and Transition to SaaS

USI and Futurelink were early pioneers of cloud computing as we understand it today. In 1998, USI introduced the concept of Application Service Providers (ASPs). Initially, ASPs primarily supplied and managed software from third-party suppliers.

Modern SaaS providers have evolved significantly, moving away from traditional client-server software that required installation on individual computers. Instead, they offer online app distribution, sharing resources among multiple clients, increasing efficiency, and scalability.

SaaS in the 1990s-2000s

As software became more resource-intensive, businesses sought third-party servers to host their data. This shift saved companies money by reducing the need for expensive equipment and specialized resources. However, security concerns initially hindered the adoption of third-party systems, but businesses eventually recognized the cost savings and scalability advantages of SaaS.

The most popular enterprise applications during this time included payroll, customer relationship management (CRM), and accounting software. Companies began to transition from one-time or perpetual licensing to subscription-based models, citing lower costs and better scalability as primary drivers.

The Journey of Concur

Concur, a notable SaaS success story, began as a traditional software company, selling physical CDs and floppies. They made the shift to SaaS, which required a web browser to operate. SAP’s $8.3 billion acquisition of Concur in 2014 marked a significant milestone in the SaaS industry.

Concur’s success can be attributed to their persistence in building a revolutionary company and transitioning from traditional software sales to SaaS. This change increased gross margins and resulted in positive net income.

The Future of SaaS

The timeline of SaaS has spanned over five decades and continues to evolve rapidly. Experts predict that the best is yet to come in the world of SaaS, with new innovations and advancements on the horizon. As businesses and individuals increasingly rely on cloud-based solutions, SaaS is set to play an even more pivotal role in shaping the future of software delivery.


The history of SaaS is a testament to the ever-evolving landscape of technology. From its humble beginnings in the 1950s to the powerhouse it is today, SaaS has reshaped how we access and use software. As we move forward, the journey of SaaS is far from over, with more exciting developments yet to come.

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