Does Microsoft Know Best?

Microsoft, RIM and HP are among the vendors increasingly taking a "works best with our stuff" approach for new products. Consider what that means for your IT strategy.
Microsoft and other vendors are increasingly taking a "works best with our stuff" approach for their new products. It's time to reexamine what that means for your IT strategy.

As the forces of mobility, software as a service, and big data reset everything about enterprise IT, many industry behemoths find that the value proposition of their core products is being shaken (sort of like shaking an Etch-A-Sketch). For instance, Windows on desktops and laptops has been worth countless billions of dollars to Microsoft as it has offered applications and other products that rely on the Windows underpinning. But in a world where most end user computing will happen on handhelds, where there's virtually no Windows presence, it's no longer clear just how much of a fundamental advantage Windows is--or if it's one at all.

History is replete with examples of very large companies that had good products but saw them marginalized by a tie to some core product that lost its mojo. Novell's NDS/eDirectory suffered from a reliance on NetWare. When NetWare tanked, so for the most part did NDS, despite the fact that it had a good head start as an enterprise directory system.

[ There are other issues vendors need to deal with also. Read Cloud Plans: Open Letter To Enterprise Application Vendors. ]

More recently, there's RIM's BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, a mobile device manager (MDM) that has some promising features but takes a "better with BlackBerry" approach. BlackBerry Mobile Fusion's not exactly what IT pros are looking for--an MDM system that manages best the devices that users now want least. You can certainly see why RIM would arrive at that approach, but it's likely to please only the most dedicated BlackBerry shops, and that's a shame.

Microsoft is extending its "first and best with Windows" approach beyond its on-premises applications to those that run in the cloud. One can only imagine the arguments in Redmond about that strategy. On one side, you have the managers of those cloud-based apps, who must worry that Windows on handhelds will never gain the market share of iOS and Android. On the other side, you have the folks who believe that if Microsoft keeps up the good fight and brings the best apps in the best way to all versions of Windows first, the company will trounce yet more competitors just as it has numerous others.

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HP is creating its own "better with HP" approach as it acquires software assets to augment its enterprise hardware products. When HP bought ArcSight, Fortify, and TippingPoint, it also set out to build other products that manage projects and help IT execs monitor the health of their systems. The catch with these systems is that they can take a lot of work to set up and run, but of course that work is lessened if you're using all HP products. HP never puts "better with HP" as the headline, but it will usually mention it when the issue of product TCO comes up. What's less clear is whether HP has changed the development priorities for the market-leading products it acquired.

Vendors provide a lot of excuses for why they support their own products first and competitors' later. It isn't a way to rope customers into buying more of their products, they say, but the natural result of their constrained resources and need to set priorities. And yet the hallmark of an enterprise security management product like ArcSight is that it works with everything. It's an odd artifact that smaller companies manage to offer broader support--say, for end user systems--than large companies with vested interests. And yet smaller companies must. If Microsoft didn't have a vested interest in Windows, don't you think it would support every major end user system in common use?

For buyers, it comes down to best of breed versus that painfully easy choice to go with the vendor you've gone to in the past. But then there's that Etch-A-Sketch-like reset that begs you not to take the easy path.

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