The Third Way

Hardware companies have never been able to sell their own software. Recall Digital with DECnet, which should have made it-rather than Sun-the Internet computing company. Or HP, whose OpenView invented network management, but whose salesforce until recently couldn’t decide whether the commissions would be fatter if they resold CA’s Unicenter instead.

And, of course, until recently, IBM Software was the company’s best-kept secret. Yes, it sold billions of dollars of systems software, but who ever put in the same sentence as Oracle, Microsoft, or CA? IBM’s software was always harder to use and less functional than rival products. CA made its name on selling better mainframe software. And those of us with gray hairs recall DisplayWrite, IBM’s word processor that made you wade through three or four menus just to do simple things like moving text.

But IBM Software is slowly getting it. DB2/UNIX and NT is making up the functionality gap with Oracle-and gaining third party support to boot. WebSphere has become BEA’s only real competition in the Java space, while MQSeries messaging continues to pulverize the competition.

With the release of WebSphere Studio, IBM is finally showing that it can develop a decent Java IDE (integrated development environment). It’s actually a portal that includes an IDE as just one of the pieces.

The real story is that IBM is creating a third way between Microsoft .NET and Java. Yes, IBM still does Java, but it’s sick of following Sun’s dictates. And, as we’ve noted previously, Sun-and the Java community-are still suffering from a not-invented-here syndromes. Case in point? Their piecemeal response to accommodating XML web services technologies. Instead, IBM is resorting to open sourcing WebSphere Studio Workbench-the framework used for WebSphere Studio.

To date, IBM is the only vendor that has effectively exploited the open source process. Unlike Microsoft and the Java folks, IBM isn’t threatened by outside development. Do you have a better way to compile Linux on the mainframe? IBM would love your technology, because that sells more zSeries mainframes.

Secondly, IBM is one of the few companies large enough to gain critical mass following whenever it open sources anything. While Sun/Forte has drawn a handful of niche vendors to its NetBeans Java IDE open source initiative, on the day of the announcement, IBM paraded a list of nearly 40 players, many of them household names.

Bottom line: If the JCP doesn’t get its act together soon, Eclipse.org, the open source group that IBM has formed around WebSphere Studio Workbench, may eclipse them. Among the items at the top of Eclipse’s list: How to generate SOAP messages from Enterprise Java Beans.