A Non-Microsoft Software Stack: The Beginnings


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Imagine a world without Microsoft software. Impossible? Not according to solution providers who say a soup-to-nuts, non-Microsoft stack is here.

We're not just talking about the LAMP infrastructure stack. (LAMP is the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, Perl or Pythonpick onecombo.)

For example, Internet search kingpin Google confirmed last week it is testing a small-business bundle of its e-mail, calendaring, instant-messaging and Web-page creation services. Users of the new Google Apps For Your Domain will operate under their own domain name, but their e-mail, to-do lists and schedule will run in the Google cloud. A paid version will be available by year's end.

This Web services bundle will compete with Microsoft Office Live, currently under development.

Google is the linchpin in this latest anti-Microsoft movement, as ISVsespecially sales-force automation or CRM players offering marketing and lead-tracking functionslook to the search company to fill in capabilities they need but don't want to develop.

"Why create your own search and ad engine if you're Salesforce.com or NetSuite?" said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. "So who do you go to? The market leader who is also an SaaS [Software-as-a-Service] provider or to Microsoft? But why pay a competitor who's trying to kill you?"

Google, with its Linux-based infrastructure, is not seen as a rival to the apps players. At least not yet.

Last week, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff spent nearly as much time touting Google's Writely app and spreadsheet offering as he did talking up Salesforce.com's new Google AdWords integration. Salesforce.com rival NetSuite likewise feted new Google AdWords tie-ins to its hosted marketing and CRM modules. VARs can use those linkages to help customers reap rewards of paid Internet searches and track the results from their dashboards.

Benioff said VARs should stick with the alternative stack and fast-delivering on-demand model.

"That's fantastic news for ISVs, VARs and integrators who want to focus their energy and creativity on customer success, not the drudgery of break-fix-patch-upgrade with client/server," he said. "The [Microsoft] stack is stuck. Worst of all, the stack has stuck it to the customer."

Gregg Rosenberg, CEO of RICIS, an e-mail specialist in Tinley Park, Ill., said there are solid open-source business applications such as SugarCRM. The exception? "I don't see any rock-solid accounting applications out there for Linux, but that will change," he said.

Demand for interoperable applications and services is driven by fear of vendor lock-in, hype around Web 2.0 and mashups, and what many call pricey Microsoft upgrades. Mashups are Web-enabled applications that combine user-defined services on one screen.

George Brown, president of Database Solutions, Cherry Hill, N.J., said the alternate stack is an issue for Microsoft. "It's a threat because some people don't want all their eggs in a Microsoft basket."

Solution providers can make money by ensuring alternative offerings adhere to true Web standardswhether they are open-source products running on-premise or as app or stack services running in the cloud. As long as VARs protect their customers this way, applications or infrastructure pieces can be swapped out at any given time.

Other solution providers say that the promise of Microsoft's integrated stack is very attractive, while conceding this very integration poses problems. For example, the upcoming Windows Vista and Longhorn releases will not support SQL Server 2005 code previous to the upcoming Service Pack 2 release. Even free forced upgrades can be disruptive.

Still, Brown said much of the anti-Microsoft sentiment is just that and nothing more. "People have to look at cost and functionality and flexibility, and I'm not sure that Salesforce.com and others offer what Microsoft does."

Dan Linstedt, a Denver-based business intelligence consultant, goes further: "The Microsoft puzzle pieces fit together nicelyusually with a little tweaking. Multivendor stacks [mean that] the vendors will continuously fight over revenue streams. At the end of the day, one vendor doesn't care if the others in the stacked solution make money."

And for all its glitz, Google has done little to calm fears that it does not knowor care aboutchannel partners. Microsoft was built on a partner model and has pledged to stay channel-focused. Google has made no such promises.

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