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Desktop warfare

Desktop warfare

Thoughts on the looming enterprise desktop battle

The IBM and Microsoft dreadnoughts passed in the night in 2007 and are charting different courses to the looming enterprise desktop battle next year. Both equipped themselves with shiny new ordnance this year, but their strategy and tactics couldn’t be more different. Microsoft continues its quest to convince the world that it ‘owns’ the sea lanes by using its Open XML treaty to extend the stranglehold of its dominant position, while IBM further deepens its alliances with rebel forces and its leverage of open standards and open source assets.

Meanwhile on the flanks, Google forms a convoy with Capgemini to reinforce its webtop skirmishes and a rag-tag flotilla of Office 2.0 privateers is bobbing optimistically in the wake of the behemoths, hoping to capture floating survivors and deserters fleeing the battle… huzzah!

It has been a busy year

Microsoft has strengthened its proprietary desktop software positioning, while showing the first signs of ‘placing a bet each way’ on the webtop.

• Vista and the 2007 Office and collabor-ation products hit the market with solid but cautious take-up.

• Microsoft’s attempts to foist a ‘better’ document standard on the world continue, though Open XML is now enduring another round of development and reconsideration by the ISO committees in early 2008.

• More shrewdly, Microsoft is blurring the boundaries between desktop and webtop software with hybrid solutions such as its ‘Live’ and ‘Online’ — offering both web-based enhancements of its client-server applications, as well as full software-as-a-service systems.

• For example, Office Live Workspace will give web access to Office and to documents stored on PCs, while SharePoint Online will offer a fully web-based solution.

• IBM finally released a new version of Lotus Notes and also fired the opening salvo of a full desktop battle with Lotus Symphony.

• Lotus Notes 8 and the suite of Sametime, Connections and Quickr are significant new products and reset the bar on the functionality of unified collaboration and communications solutions.

• The products embrace web 2.0 interactivity and were also fully re-developed in an open standards, open source architecture.

• IBM announced it will formally join the OpenOffice community, handing back its forked code and collaborating on future developments, with its distribution being branded Lotus Symphony (haven’t I heard that name before?).

• The combination of Linux and the new IBM Lotus software suite offers enterprise buyers the first full function major-vendor-backed alternative to Microsoft’s desktop products.

Meanwhile, a range of ambitious strategies play out on the edge of the battle.

• Google has continued to build out its Google Apps webtop office productivity offerings and is now partnering with Capgemini to support enterprise customers.

This will boost Google’s ability to persuade enterprise clients to ‘give it a go’, but the applications themselves will need more development to become a convincing Office alternative.

The Microsoft vs IBM conflict is reminiscent of WW1 dreadnoughts slugging it out shelling each other over the horizon. Does anyone, however, remember how the aeroplane changed the rules of naval warfare forever?

The Office 2.0 flotilla, drawing energy from the ‘overnight’ success of Sykpe, YouTube and Salesforce.com, is banking that customerpull for their innovative new products will achieve critical mass and overcome the inertia of the enterprise status quo.

It is easy to see this striking a chord with smaller enterprises with limited legacy commitments, tight budgets, dynamic growth prospects, networking orientations, and young workforces. The webtop has its appeal.

Large enterprises, however, are much more risk averse and not as influenced by the consumer-led aspirations of younger workers.

Indeed, enterprises themselves have similar characteristics to their dreadnought vendors — both are large complex lumps of machinery engineered for a specific role and both take a similarly long time to steer to a new course.

It remains to be seen if Office 2.0 will produce genuine alternatives to Microsoft and IBM or simply be written up in Wikipedia as a glorious period of venture-funded R&D — the results of which were captured by the dreadnoughts as they built the innovations into their own products, absorbed their enemies by acquisition and alliances, and steamed through the Office 2.0 flotilla leaving sinking vessels and drowning venture capitalists in the flotsam of their wake.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson is research director public sector for Ovum in Melbourne.

© Fairfax Business Media

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