With digital technology, products can be designed to be hardware or software centric. Each type of platform has different advantages.
Products whose architecture is software-based typically have an initial cost advantage, especially if the computing device on which the software runs has already been purchased. This includes programs that run on personal computers. However, these programs have relatively short life expectancies with supplier support typically lasting a few years.
Software-based products are also dependent on the hardware and operating systems that they run on being supported. Programs designed to operate on Windows 7 may not work on newer operating systems.
One of the most popular software products in the music field has been Cakewalk, a program that includes multitrack sequencing and a digital audio workstation. In 2013 an American company, Gibson, acquired Cakewalk from Roland of Japan. In November 2017, Gibson announced that it was “ceasing active development and production of Cakewalk branded products”. In other words, as computers and operating systems are upgraded, this program will likely become inoperable.
Hardware-based products are initially more expensive than software products. While these hardware products also include software, this dedicated software that is not dependent on third parties for support. The life expectancy of hardware-based products is typically significantly longer than those that are software-based, lasting as long as the hardware is supported. In the church organ field hardware products serve for decades. In the case of Allen organs, some of its instruments in their seventh decade continue to operate and are serviceable. Compare this to the life expectancy of a personal computer.
Nearly all church organs are hardware-based because of the longevity and other advantages. Some software-centric organs are available and used as practice instruments. Often referred to as “virtual organs”, these systems require a personal computer and a software program, typically by Hauptwerk. They also require software sample sets and significant additional hardware including: keyboards, stop control mechanisms, MIDI interfaces, amplifiers, speaker cabinets, some form of cabinet to house these assemblies, and more. This amounts to thousands of dollars of additional costs.
Software-based products that only require a personal computer or a handheld device is a relatively small investment making its shorter lifespan justifiable. However, a software-based organ involves thousands of dollars of investment that will be rendered unusable should the organ software program not be supported. This adds significant risk to the actual cost and longevity of a software-based organ.