Kicking the Windows habit: .NET vs. WebSphere

In this latest look at Microsoft alternatives, an IBM official compares WebSphere with .NET.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said time and again that its toughest competition in enterprise accounts is none other than IBM. Unlike the old days, when IBM set the standards, the Big Blue of today champions open source technology. Another IBM asset is its Global Services division which helps large business customers integrate Web applications, among other things. Scott Hebner, director of marketing for WebSphere Application Server,...

IBM's Web application platform, says Microsoft's dominance in the client/server world won't necessarily translate into a similar success when the game changes to networked computing.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Scott Hebner, WebSphere Marketing Director

  SearchWin2000: Compare WebSphere with Microsoft's .NET strategy?

Scott Hebner: WebSphere was designed to be an application platform for the network. It supports heterogeneous hardware, middleware and open standards. Because it's open source and open standards, a great deal of developers are willing to support it. Partners are not afraid of being locked in. With .NET, the bottom line is if you build applications to that platform in [Microsoft's] Visual Studio, you can only deploy [that application] to a PC.


SearchWin2000: What are some of the key technical differences?

Scott Hebner: While most of WebSphere is here and deployed, Microsoft .NET largely doesn't exist. A lot of what [Microsoft] is talking about is where they are heading. If you built to Windows 2000 and NT, you would have to build again [to .NET]. And also, WebSphere is built on multi-platform open standards, where .NET is deployed to Windows. Finally, we have a deeper business integration capability, integrated businesses, connectivity and Web services workflows. We have rebuilt our development tools around an open source organization called Eclipse [platform for developing integrated tools]. Developers are flocking to it, tool vendors are supporting it. It was launched last November, and we will see a greater number of products that support [Eclipse]. Steve Ballmer says WebSphere is a competitive problem, and Linux is too. Linux represents an open source developer alternative. And another headache is Java 2 AEE, which is an open, cross-vendor alternative to Microsoft's middleware stack. Eclipse is to tools what Linux is to operating systems. If they are worried about Linux, they are also worried that Eclipse is coming with tools. It threatens Microsoft where they are most vulnerable -- their developer community and their partnerships.


SearchWin2000: Are you chasing the same customers?

Scott Hebner: Microsoft does well with small businesses and consumers -- the low end. Those customers are not as concerned about heterogeneous networks. But among the high end and midmarket companies with more than 1,000 employees, there is a greater concern about security, scalability -- they have supply chains and partners that are likely to have heterogeneous networks. In the mid-1990s, applications were built for the PC and Client/Server, and essentially Windows became dominant. But IBM had to decide; do we build all middleware and software on Windows, move on and create a networked infrastructure of standards or fight with OS/2? We decided to invest in a networked infrastructure that was fully open standards-based. We got into Java as an application platform for the network. We can support Windows through Java, and other platforms as well. We've been building this platform for five or six years now. When Microsoft announced .NET, they said it would be a platform to build to for networked applications, and it would use open standards. We feel we have about a four year lead building this platform.


If they [Microsoft] are worried about Linux, they are also worried that Eclipse is coming with tools. It threatens Microsoft where they are most vulnerable -- their developer community and their partnerships. -- Hebner


SearchWin2000: How do WebSphere and .NET stack up costwise in your opinion?

Scott Hebner: Their list price is less, but they have a different way of charging for usage. And also, customers spend a great deal of time integrating applications. For every dollar they spend on an application, there is another $5 to $9 spent integrating that application. Our licensing model is based on server, CPU usage. Another thing about .NET is that most of the software has to be ripped and replaced.


SearchWin2000: Where do you see WebSphere's customer growth coming from?

Scott Hebner: We see it coming from the midmarket, in partners and in business integration. We have a midmarket product, called WebSphere Express, which is designed to be more approachable. But Microsoft is not our primary competitor. We see that as BEA and Oracle. Microsoft is trying to go after the enterprise, and nine out of 10 times they run into us because we are so entrenched here.


When Microsoft announced .NET, they said it would be a platform to build to for networked applications, and it would use open standards. We feel we have about a four year lead building this platform. -- Hebner


SearchWin2000: When customers choose Microsoft over WebSphere, what reason do they give?

Scott Hebner: They say their primary platform is the PC.


SearchWin2000: Once customers switch to Microsoft, what is the strategy for winning them back?

Scott Hebner: We continue to drive ease of use and interoperability. But customers are building applications on more than just a PC network. No matter what anyone says, Microsoft products can only build and deploy to PCs. As soon as customers get more concerned with security, heterogeneity, business integration, performance and reliability, then it tilts toward IBM's advantage. We were strong with mainframes, not with client/server. But now that we are back onto network computing, we will emerge as strong again. The market has changed on them. They had a PC-era product strategy, and .NET is about to change that. The question is, is a four-year late start going to let them catch up?

Microsoft declined an interview for this story.

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