Battle of the Titans

Both Microsoft and IBM take care in choosing the battlegrounds on which they confront one another. Workplace could be the site of the next skirmish.

During the last 10 years, the competition between IBM and Microsoft has dominated news in the computer industry. The year just passed was no exception. Even big stories like the Oracle takeover of PeopleSoft are ripples in the wake of the larger IBM-Microsoft conflict.

Though the competition is fevered, both Microsoft and IBM take care in choosing the battlegrounds on which they confront one another. Perhaps as a result, each has gained ground during their years of conflict, while many players, big and small, have ebbed.

XML-based Web services have proved to be a very agreeable field for the two giants. They have agreed to standard after standard. If Web services provide a simple means to interoperability between these two big platform providers, many IT shops will be glad. It is too early to say if it is really all that simple. We will keep an eye on this in 2005.

When Microsoft made its first big inroads into enterprise-wide server-based computing, its Exchange software system played a big role. It was no juggernaut. IBM saw the value in Lotus Notes and competed with Microsoft -- some would say a little lukewarmly -- in the enterprise e-mail space.

An IBM-backed Notes was able to hold its own. Today, IBM and Microsoft messaging systems are at about parity. People continue to produce position papers comparing Microsoft Exchange with IBM Lotus Domino Notes, but the comparisons this time truly are of the apples-to-oranges variety. People have faulted IBM's Notes Domino road map; but, remember, there is plenty of fault cast at Microsoft's road map these days as well. Some folks suggest that the Redmond crew is not as steely-eyed with grim resolve as in past years.

Microsoft has stalked high-end providers throughout its history. Now it hears steps from below -- these would be Linux footsteps, this time on the desktop. One feather in the IBM Lotus cap and one thorn in the Microsoft side is desktop Linux. Even people who counted out desktop Linux not too long ago are ceding it as a possible competitor now. Microsoft is getting the kind of competition that can be really troubling. No one has done more to promote Linux on the server side than IBM, although it has not truly yet taken on Microsoft with a fiery Linux desktop offering. Remember, Workplace runs on Linux, and it could be just such a fiery competitive offering.

Domino Notes advocates should take some heart here. Even if IBM's emerging Workplace effort has muddied up Lotus waters, the Lotus Group is clearly behind the effort to create a new generation of collaborative application infrastructure software. It is the Domino administrator and developer that organizations will ask to enable Web conferencing and the like. IBM continues to grow that effort, and from within the Lotus group. The Microsoft developer has to pick from all over the map to deliver real-time collaboration.

It is no small coincidence that Microsoft recently scheduled an ad hoc Office developer conference to come just on the heels of Lotusphere. Microsoft has to be concerned that Workplace is coming up to speed at a time when its comparative offering is a deck of PowerPoint slides. While the plan may be sound, Lotus group head Ambuj Goyal and crew have work ahead of them. We will cover this closely in the year to come.

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