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Java vs. .NET, part 2 - The Nature of the Beast

Posted by pbrittan on August 6, 2003 at 11:35 AM PDT

What is Microsoft trying to do?

Microsoft is the uncontested champion of the desktop. In the business world, they own essentially the entire client-side market. This is a huge advantage for them. But it is also a limitation. In order to fuel its growth, Microsoft must find new, less-tapped-out markets to go after. The server room is one such market. Microsoft is already strong there, but they still have a lot of share to grow into, and it is a lucrative market.

In my previous post in this series, I claimed that Microsoft has the upper hand when it comes to the quality of the user experience. Microsoft’s user experience leadership is completely bound up with their domination of the desktop. It makes sense for Microsoft to use their hegemony on the desktop to their advantage. The client PC is their solid base, and .NET is the lever to get back to the target. .NET is an expansive strategy with many interlocking parts, and these parts come into play at various stages in Microsoft’s siege of the server room.

The UI layer of .NET is the tip of Microsoft’s spear. Microsoft leverages its usability advantage, combined with its very strong tools offering, to convince developers to adopt .NET as their platform for application development and deployment. .NET apps are delivered either as ASP.NET Web pages or as managed CLR fat clients. The thing is, in order to deploy and power .NET apps on the client or in the browser, you really need to install Windows servers, preferably Windows Server 2003 (formerly known as Windows .NET Server), in the server room. Ideally, you’ll also finally upgrade to XP on the desktops to boot!

One of the barriers to entry that Microsoft has faced in the server room is the skill set of the systems administrators who run those rooms. Many enterprises have standardized on UNIX and/or Linux in the data center, and their sys admins do not have Windows server skills. However, once a company takes the plunge to install even a few Windows servers in order to power .NET applications, that company will have to hire Windows-trained personnel or train their existing sys admins to run Windows boxes. Once that happens, there is no longer a barrier for a company to add even more Windows Servers, displacing UNIX and even Linux boxes from competitors like IBM and Sun.

From there, Microsoft uses the expansiveness of the .NET strategy to push out Oracle in favor of SQL Server and gets companies to install BizTalk and other Microsoft server technologies. The fact that so many companies already rely on Exchange for email helps in this. Microsoft will demonstrate the power and ease of using a pre-integrated stack from a single vendor to get customers to adopt more and more of their technology.

This is the threat that non-Microsoft vendors and the whole Java community faces. This plan is ambitious, but it is by no means easy, even for a company with the resources and advantages of Microsoft. Its success hinges largely on Microsoft’s ability to convince developers to adopt .NET. Therefore, the Java community’s challenge is to keep the tip of Microsoft’s spear from getting in by convincing developers and sys admins (and the companies that employ them) that Java has a more compelling answer for applications delivery than .NET.

(to be continued)

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