Microsoft May Top Looming Software Consolidation

The Justice Department may be chiding Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com) for its monopoly-like practices, but in the end it seems we're going to be relying on Redmond for more of our infrastructure requirements in the near future, analysts predict. As companies develop more complex e-business infrastructures, they will increasing rely on single vendors for applications and middleware, rather than cobbling together best-of-breed solutions.

Within the next three years, "up to 70 percent of new business applications will run on software infrastructure stacks purchased entirely from a single vendor, as a single decision," said Yafim Natis, analyst with GartnerGroup Inc. (www.gartner.com), at the market analysis firm's recent e-business expo. And it's increasingly likely that single vendor will be Microsoft.

Microsoft has already embarked on this strategy with the Windows 2000 release, which is essentially an "integrated enterprise software infrastructure stack," Natis elaborates. This stack comprises the operating system, the DBMS, an application server -- COM+, the Internet infrastructure, an integration broker -- BizTalk and Babylon, and a set of development tools. The Office and BackOffice suites round out the applications end of this stack.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft's competitors are building similar stacks, Natis adds. Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com), in partnership with AOL (www.aol.com) and Netscape (www.netscape.com), is a leading challenger. The Sun/AOL/Netscape alliance will offer operating systems, an application server -- iPlanet, Oracle DBMS, development tools -- Forte's SynerJ, an Internet infrastructure, and, in the near future, an integration broker. Oracle Corp. (www.oracle.com) offers a licensed Sun operating system, its Oracle8i DBMS, and ERP applications. Similarly, IBM offers multiple operating systems running DB2, VisualAge development tools, Websphere, and Domino middleware, and a host of applications.

However, in this growing battle to capture the heart, soul, and brains of the enterprise, Microsoft may have lost early ground. The availability of COM+, which represents a powerful software infrastructure, was linked to the release of Windows 2000, and therefore delayed by more than a year, Natis explains. "The delay allowed Microsoft's competitors to devise a new enterprise platform -- J2EE," he says. Microsoft's competitors managed to deliver enterprise-class Java solutions, "and even bring them to production deployment before Microsoft's COM+ shipped." At this point, the primary vendors supporting J2EE -- Sun, IBM, Oracle, and BEA Systems Inc. (www.beasys.com) -- are 18 months ahead in the adoption lifecycle. He predicts, however, that COM+ will begin to surpass enterprise Java as it becomes the default architecture on the Windows platform.