Sunday, October 02, 2005

Platform Mania

I have lately been seeing some posts in the Blogs as well as media criticizing the vendors for ERP/CRM Suites trying to lock them into their proprietary formats. Nicholas Carr's Blog Posting has the same rant, and so do many of the open source and Salesforce.com's AppExchange promos.

What is a platform? It can be anything, from a hardware, to a specific software container. Thus for Linux, Intel Processor is a proprietary platform. Similarly for AppExchange Developers, Salesforce.com's technical architecture is a proprietary platform. It is of importance to note that Open Source software platforms still run on proprietary hardware and/or software (like Linux running on Intel hardware and/or IBM 390 series) and there is practically no way to go completely free from the clutch of the vendors.

Coming to ERP/CRM Suite, Larry Ellison announced in Oracle OpenWorld that Oracle, in its Project Fusion, will certify its software on all standard containers and none of them will be proprietary (keynote available here for download). Oracle Fusion has already been certified for IBM Websphere and probably down the line JBoss and others will follow. What this essentially means is that Oracle is trying to break its stranglehold of the platform so as to say, and is planning to really differentiate on the quality of its software, which will run on any specific open standard complaint platform. Larry also spoke of a possibility where the customers are also given the choice of picking any other database for their applications and not be tied to the Oracle Platform. This strategy can be attributed to leapfrogging and disruption (as this blog suggests).

I still wonder why people feel that

" it's not only the "serious software firm" that produces useful code" (Carr's Blog)


As I mentioned in my last post, it is only when capable corporations lend their muscle to open source movement that it becomes enterprise strength. Till then it remains more of a novelty or a niche, but not of a class and capability that can make it a commodity.

"How would you feel if your mechanic handed you a 125-piece wrench set rather than actually fixing your car? What if another mechanic then walked up to you with his tools and started arguing with the first guy about whose tools were better? You sure wouldn’t feel like either of them was going to help you with your problem, would you? Yet that’s exactly what software vendors are doing today as they engage in their platform wars – much to the detriment of their customers and the industry." (Carr's Blog quoting Greg Gianforte)

This is too simplistic an analogy. Unfortunately even after more than a 100 years of evolution Car Manufacturing is not taking a commodity route. Manufacturers have specified vendors and unique specs. If it was a commodity approach, the "best designers in the world" (whoever and wherever they are) would have designed an engine that would have run on any chassis and gearbox, making it a real plug and play components. We would have a choice on which engine, which wheelbase and which electrical circuits to choose and the only reason mechanics existed was to assemble the car, and do nominal fixes.

Finally a disclaimer. I am not against open source. In fact, on the contrary, I think it is of great value. At the same time, we need to get out of the herd mentality with our thought processes about what it really is and what it can do.

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