VMware, Salesforce.com to Launch Java-Based Cloud-Development Platform

Another fighter jet of a development platform joined the battle for the cloud this week, as Salesforce.com and VMware revealed an effort called…seriously…VMforce.

Aside from sounding like a '70s superhero cartoon, VMforce has some muscle behind it. First of all, Salesforce.com has expanded in recent years from being mainly a provider of hosted CRM to being a pretty legitimate cloud player -- see its Force.com development platform, for instance. And VMware is VMware, still the runaway leader in virtualization technologies.

But they key to VMforce is a four-letter word: Java. The VMforce platform will be a cloud-based development platform for Java developers, who number about 6 million or so worldwide, according to Salesforce.com and VMware folks.

"These java developers haven't had a clear path to the cloud," Eric Stahl, senior director of product marketing at Salesforce.com, told RCPU this week. "There's hasn't been a good cloud option for them to date."

This one, a preview of which is due to launch in the second half of this year, sounds pretty good. Essentially, developers can create WAR files in Java, drop them into VMforce and let the platform take things from there. A variety of technologies and platforms, including vSphere, Spring, Tomcat and VMforce itself, automatically deploy files in the cloud and facilitate their maintenance and operation.

VMforce is a "hermetically sealed environment," Mitch Ferguson, senior director of alliances at VMware, told RCPU. "The Java developer downloads [the WAR file] into VMforce, and we handle everything from there," Ferguson explained.

"You're literally depositing a WAR file onto the platform, and it just will scale from there," Stahl added.

VMware and Salesforce.com see their alliance, in some respects, as a Java-based cloud alternative to .NET and Azure. They figure they have numbers on their side, with Java still being the dominant programming language for writing business applications.

"We think Microsoft has laid out a vision to bring .NET developers to the cloud with Azure, and we feel this will be the path for the 6 million Java developers to the cloud," Stahl said. "We're going to make it a more abstract platform where you don't have to deal with the lower-level infrastructure as you do with the Azure platform."

The whole cloud-development picture is starting to look like an old film clip of an aerial battle from World War II -- metaphorically speaking, of course. But we figure that with VMware and Salesforce.com backing a Java effort, the latest squadron to enter this fight will pack some firepower.

What's your take on cloud development? What do you think about VMware and Salesforce.com joining forces? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 28, 20100 comments

Anti-Virus Vendors Just Keep Having Problems

McAfee's recent XP-crashing patch got a lot of press, but the anti-virus vendor is hardly the only one in the category that has had trouble doing what it promises customers it will do. In fact, as this long report notes, the anti-virus game seems to be getting more difficult -- and worse -- all the time.

Posted on April 28, 20101 comments

Microsoft Earnings: Good But Not Good Enough

Microsoft blew away Wall Street expectations with its earnings report last week -- but that didn't help its stock price much. Windows earnings were strong, backed by the performance of Windows 7. However, the critical Server and Tools division showed a bit of weakness quarter-over-quarter, and the Microsoft Business Division (think Dynamics) actually recorded a small revenue shortfall compared to the corresponding 2009 quarter.

All of that sent Microsoft's stock price down late last week, although it did gain a bit of a bump today. Still, it closed Monday down from where it was prior to Thursday's earnings announcement. Such is the price of success, we suppose -- when very good is still not good enough.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 26, 20100 comments

Sony Buries the Floppy Disk

Weep (or stock up), nostalgia fans, for the venerable floppy disk (which Sony still makes!) will be no more after March of next year. Sony is the last company making the old disks, and it just isn't getting enough demand from people who have been living under rocks for the past 10 years to keep production going. This would be sad if floppies hadn't always been largely unreliable and surprisingly easy to lose. Oh well -- another part of computing history fades into the sunset.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 26, 20101 comments

Convergence: Microsoft Dynamics Is All about CRM

Microsoft Dynamics is a lot of things -- really, a lot -- but it seems more clear than ever that the hook for selling the enterprise package isn't one of its four enterprise resource planning suites but rather its customer relationship management offering, Dynamics CRM.

Sure, Microsoft gave details last week about Dynamics GP 2010, one of the four suites, but when RCPU spoke to Brad Wilson, Microsoft's general manager of Dynamics CRM, guess what the first thing he mentioned was? A hosted adapter that links Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft's hosted CRM service, with GP 2010.

And here we were thinking that Dynamics CRM Online already had native integration to the ERP suites. Actually, it doesn't, as partners have been providing adapters up to now. Wilson, though, said that native integration between CRM Online and the four ERP suites will be the way forward: "Now we're delivering native adapters both on-premises and in the cloud, and we'll be bringing them out for other Dynamics products."

At Convergence this week in Atlanta, Dynamics CRM -- and particularly CRM Online -- has been the star of the show. The four ERP suites kind of orbit around it now, though they are (little by little) more directly connected to CRM than the used to be.

Still, it's Dynamics CRM that gets the glory -- as well it should. Microsoft has priced the Online service aggressively, including offering licenses to GP customers for just $19 per user per month. (For the record, that's way less than what Salesforce.com, Dynamics CRM Online's main rival, charges for its comparable suites.) Microsoft will also roll out Dynamics CRM Online to 32 new counties later this year.

And Microsoft executives are now hyping up the enterprise applications and the cloud, talking about many of the same value points that their competitors stress. (Of course, all of this cloud talk still doesn't apply to the ERP suites, which partners host but Microsoft still doesn't, and doesn't want to -- at least as far as we know.)

Still, there's one thing that Microsoft has going for it that other companies can't offer. Well, two things, actually. One is integration -- the next version of the Dynamics CRM code base (which is the same for Microsoft-hosted, partner-hosted and on-premises offerings), currently dubbed CRM 5 and due at the end of 2010, will have native integration into Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, Wilson said.

And then there's that old Microsoft trump card, user and IT familiarity: In the CRM market, "I think it's probably down to us and Salesforce.com," Wilson said. "We have a different value proposition. That value proposition is based around being able to use what people already have. Salesforce.com is a rip-and-replace product. If you've got some on-premises-based software, we'll work with that. We're helping a lot of businesses integrate more easily into what they're running today as opposed to doing a complete paradigm shift in IT."

If any paradigm has shifted, it's Microsoft's own; Dynamics has moved in recent years from being an ERP-centric, on-premises product line to being led by a hosted CRM service. With the momentum cloud computing seems to be building, that's probably not a bad shift for most partners. We want to know, though—is anybody actually selling Dynamics CRM Online? Or is it more hype than revenue stream at this point? Tell us at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 26, 20100 comments

Another Editor's Note: Software Licensing Nightmares

We're putting together a story for Redmond magazine about the worst experiences you've had with software licensing. Has the Business Software Alliance or Microsoft ever raided your office? Have you had trouble clearing your name? Have you actually had to deal with a problem you didn't even know existed? Send us your worst tales of licensing woe --confidentiality guaranteed, of course. The address, as always, is [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 22, 20100 comments

SQL Server 2008 R2 Serves Ups Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence has been floating around as an industry phrase for more than a decade now, and yet many partners or IT pros would likely be hard-pressed to name 10 people who actually use BI tools.

The promise of BI -- essentially the idea that non-technical users should be able to easily get to and manipulate information that's buried in a database somewhere -- has actually come to fruition. BI software, as overcomplicated as much of it has become, has basically worked pretty well for a while. Some of it isn't even that hard to use. And, yet, BI hasn't really trickled down into organizations the way vendors, partners and IT folks would like to see it trickle.

With this week's release to manufacturing of SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft hopes that it's creating a product that will finally play a major role in bringing BI to the masses by linking it tightly to SharePoint and Excel. R2 is really about bringing BI to average users by embedding it in familiar tools. Office 2010, for instance, will include a feature called PowerPivot -- which ships as a free download with R2 -- that will let users manipulate BI data in Excel and share it via SharePoint. No strange interfaces, no special training -- just familiar tools for normal folks. That's the idea.

"If we truly want [BI] to be for the masses, the masses can't be the power users," Herain Oberoi, group product manager, SQL Server Business Group at Microsoft, told RCPU recently. "We know BI is pervasive when people like you and me are using BI without knowing we're using it. It's not about 10 million users. It's about 500 million users."

Oberoi said that SQL Server 2008 R2 is all about bringing BI to users through "the ubiquity of Office," something he says Microsoft has thus far underutilized on the BI side. "Microsoft has never really gone after that," he said of Office's massive market share. "[BI] has to become part and parcel of what Office means for productivity and information workers over time."

When it comes to democratizing BI, many have tried, and few -- arguably none -- have succeeded. But Office has always been an ace up Microsoft's sleeve, and Redmond really should have a big advantage over competitors given the familiarity users have with the suite. Plus, Microsoft's BI capabilities, which trailed those of rivals for years, are looking very solid these days. So, partners, you should be able to allay customers' fears about giving up BI functionality for a more familiar interface. Microsoft's BI technology is pretty impressive.

Will SQL Server 2008 R2 be the product that finally pushes BI into the everyday life of average office workers? Well, if anybody can do it, Microsoft can. Now, we'll just have to see how well all of this stuff actually works.

How do your customers or office workers use BI? How important is it to your business? What would you like to see from Microsoft or other BI vendors? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 22, 20100 comments

Ten Nations Criticize Google on Privacy

Ten countries -- including the U.K., France, Germany and Canada -- have sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt taking him to task for what they believe to be lax privacy standards practiced by the search giant. Most of the complaints center on the thus far ill-fated Google Buzz, which Google is no doubt pretty sick of talking about by now. (Think of Buzz as Google's mini-Vista.)

We're still working on a story about Microsoft (and now Google) and privacy. What are your concerns? What kind of experiences have you had? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 22, 20100 comments

Microsoft Office Moves into Facebook

Great, now we'll never escape this social-networking stuff. Users will soon be able to (the tool is in beta) create and share Microsoft Office documents in Facebook. Seriously, this is probably a really good idea on Microsoft's part, but we're a bit less than thrilled at the prospect of writing RCPU while getting bombed with messages about what a bunch of people we went to high school with are feeding their kids for dinner.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 22, 20101 comments

Apple Just Destroys Wall Street

We still think that the iPad looks stupid, but we can't argue with what Steve Jobs has done with a company that, let's not forget, was as good as dead about a decade-and-a-half ago. The numbers don't lie

Posted on April 21, 20100 comments

Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 is Prelude to Convergence

This week, a bit of news. Next week, the show. We love Dynamics here at RCPU. We're just into that heavy, complex, back-office stuff. And we love Convergence -- it's a shame that, due to lots of factors, your editor can't get there in person anymore.

But we can still talk about Dynamics and about Convergence. This week, Microsoft released details of GP 2010, which will be available on May 1.

This one isn't a revolutionary release or anything, but it does offer integration with Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, CRM Online and Microsoft's unified-communications platform. So, it works with everything else, which is great.

Well, almost everything else. As you know, Microsoft continues to sell four different Dynamics enterprise resource planning suites (which are GP, NAV, SL and AX). Long has that been the case, and long will it be the case based on pretty much everything Microsoft has said since Project Green -- the forlorn effort to merge all four suites into a single power suite -- died a few years ago.

And, still, we find the whole four-suite thing baffling. Yes, we should probably just get over it. Microsoft says that it's working fine and that it makes a lot of sense and that it helps customers choose the suite that's right for them. Fair enough. But partners have told us over the years that it creates confusion the channel. (They've also told us that there's massive overcrowding in the channel around Dynamics sales, but it has been a while since we've talked to anybody about that.) And, frankly, the four-suite strategy seems to complicate what should be -- what is, in fact, supposed to be -- a refreshingly simple ERP offering.

And so, here we are writing about Dynamics again and saying again that one single suite --with some room for customization, to be sure -- would make more sense than the Four Horsemen of Microsoft Dynamics do. At Convergence next week, Microsoft will probably talk about GP 2010, about Dynamics CRM Online and maybe even about ERP in the cloud --although it has never really shown any serious interest in that last category.

But we'll still be sitting here in Framingham wondering why Microsoft has never managed to simplify its ERP offering and questioning whether having four suites (of which AX and GP are pretty dominant) is really better than having one. And for another year, our curiosity will likely go unsatisfied. Nevertheless, we're fans of Dynamics. The focus on low cost and simplicity of implementation makes sense for the midmarket. Only the four-suite thing doesn't. But we might have mentioned that already…

Dynamics partners, what's the take from the channel? Is the four-suite strategy working out OK? Is there still overcrowding in the Dynamics channel? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 21, 20100 comments

Editor's Note: Microsoft's Greatest Comebacks

We've said many times here that even when Microsoft is down, it's never out. Redmond might be behind rivals right now in, say, consumer search or mobile operating systems, but Microsoft has been down before and come back to dominate markets. In fact, we're writing a story about that right now: Microsoft's greatest comebacks. For better or worse, which comebacks in Microsoft history have impressed you most? Maybe Internet Explorer burying Netscape? Something else? Send your thoughts to [email protected]. Thanks!

Posted by Lee Pender on April 21, 20102 comments