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Microsoft's BI Play

First, it was Oracle. Now, it's Microsoft.

First, it was Oracle. Now, it's Microsoft.With the latter's company's announcement that it's buying BI software firm ProClarity, the already crowded business intelligence market -- and analytics in particular -- looks to be getting a little more crowded.

All-around business intelligence wiz Cindi Howson gives her take on what Microsoft's snatch of ProClarity means for the business intelligence market. In a word, it's "wow."

As IBM, Lotus and Netscape learned, Howson says, "when Microsoft is serious about something, it generally succeeds." Redmond's acquisition of ProClarity is part of an analytics push that stretches back as far as 1999, but has gained big momentum in the last year -- heck, even in the last eight months. When news broke this week that ProClarity would contribute the next piece of Microsoft's BI arsenal, the long-simmering threat the enterprise giants pose to free-standing business intelligence software firms got ratcheted up a notch. Howson explains more in her analysis.

Microsoft's move follows quick on the heels of Oracle's launch of the Oracle Business Intelligence Suite -- a dividend from the software titan's acquisition of Siebel Systems. (Howson does not, incidentally, feel the same enthusiasm for Oracle's move as she does for Microsoft's.)

But neither Microsoft nor Oracle (nor IBM, for that matter) is going to waltz in and claim the BI market as its own. The BI pure-plays still have superior functionality, and they of course don't get persnickety about linking to databases and other information sources that they don't manufacture themselves. The same can't always be said for the Big Three. Customers like flexibility, and they're going to continue liking it for a long time.

But BI market competition has taken on a new facet now, and permanently. It's not just the welterweight software specialists swinging it out against each other any more. Now the pure-plays are fending off attacks from the heavyweights as well.

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