MFG 2.0

One Very Expensive Free-For-All

Wasn’t software industry consolidation supposed to make things simpler?

These days, it seems like a lot of software giants are stretching their legs, stepping out of their traditional core competencies and directly onto each other’s toes in the process.

And often they cross paths on the way there. For instance, design software powerhouse Adobe is moving out of the art gallery and into the world of Web conferencing with Acrobat Connect, while at the same time the usually non-artsy Microsoft is embracing the studio setting with its Expression Studio (a competitor to Photoshop/Illustrator) Silverlight plugin ( a Flash competitor) and XPF document format (a competitor to PDF).

Shrinkwrap sales specialist Microsoft has also taken a recent step towards the “on-demand” , Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model of office software delivery with this week's Office Live Workspace release.

Meanwhile, SaaS business software innovator Salesforce.com announced a move into enterprise content management (somewhat unimaginatively called Salesforce Content) earlier this year, while everyone’s favorite consultant stable, German ERP powerhouse SAP, last month unveiled a new on-demand ERP platform (called Business By Design) of its own.

Enterprise heavyweight SAP is using this SaaS solution to move downmarket into the small and medium business market, and is therefore headed straight towards an inevitable clash with Microsoft, which is itself climbing up the SMB beanstalk towards the enterprise. And they're meeting in the midmarket.

I wouldn’t want to be in the contested space between these two giant butting heads right now. Or maybe I would -- come to think of it, there’s definite potential for playing them off against each other as never before.

Meanwhile, back at the on-demand ranch, a whole flock of applications from hungry developers are flying in Salesforce’s airspace through its popular Appexchange program. Many of these applications are add-ons or enhancements for products you may already use on a regular basis.

And then there’s Apple –- usually content to be the creator of all that is held holy in consumer tech (such as the recently discounted, and in some cases recently disabled iPhone) -– who is making a bid to be taken seriously as an enterprise-ready IT business computer vendor with its Xserve platform.

And to top it all off there's Google, which not only recently released a free version of Powerpoint called Presentation (to fill a gaping hole in its free, SaaS office package) but also recently received big-ticket consultant support from Capgemini, which announced it would be offering the free Google Apps software package as an option for its customers.

And all of this is just talking about the big footprint vendors, not even addressing the innumerable startups that are nipping at their heels, such as the open source Microsoft Project competitor OpenProj from Projity, which is said to offer seamless migration from Project files -- a claim that neither IBM nor Sun’s free MS Office competitors (Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice.Org, respectively) can quite yet make with Microsoft Office documents (although considering that the effort involves these heavyweight companies and the open source development community, I have no doubt that someone will get there soon).

With all these role reversals and turf warfare, and the market’s newfound uncertainty over who exactly is competing with whom for whom, one thing is for sure –- before you go and make any significant investments in a proprietary app, be certain that the flashy new product from a suddenly-expansive vendor is going to get supported in the long term -- something that is difficult to say about many of the initiatives/services/apps described above.

IAfter all, remember that the second buyer usually wins…

TAGS: Innovation
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