From the Ether

SAN MATEO (04/03/2000) - There are now a gazillion companies selling software for putting businesses on the Internet.

Analyst Albert Pang at IDC.com keeps a list of them. His list raises the question: Which ones will be left standing at the end of what day?

There are some big old ones -- Oracle Corp., for example, and Siebel, which Fortune lists as the fastest-growing company in America. There was Clarify, now part of Nortel Networks Corp., and Vantive, now part of PeopleSoft.

There are some big new ones -- Art Technology Group, Broadvision, Silknet (just merged with Kana), and Vignette.

And there are many little new ones. There are Andromedia (now Macromedia), Annuncio, Bow Street, HNC Software, InterWorld, Net Perceptions, Personify, Rightpoint (now part of E.piphany, which also just bought Octane), Trilogy, and Trivida (now Be Free).

All of these have the obvious "www.company.com" URLs, which I assume are backed by their own software.

Among the many more e-commerce providers are diversified companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, EDS, Microsoft, and your favorite, which I'm sorry to have left out.

Five-year-old Vignette is now claiming to be the fastest-growing software company of any kind, ever -- ahead of Netscape and Siebel.

Or maybe only the fastest-growing enterprise software company of any reasonable size in Austin, Texas, beginning with V -- something like that. See www.vignette.com.

For the fourth quarter of 1999, Vignette reported revenue growth of 512 percent to $41 million, bringing its 1999 total to $89 million.

Although still without earnings, Vignette is public with the Nasdaq symbol VIGN. As I was talking last week with Bill Daniel, senior vice president of products, VIGN was off 8 percent for the day.

Daniel wasn't worried -- hadn't even noticed the drop. Sure, his stock was off almost one third from its 52-week high, but it was still up more than 20 times from its IPO -- VIGN was priced at about 80-times revenue.

"This is not a sprint," said Daniel, "It's a marathon."

"Vignette is the fastest-growing even after the very conservative way in which we recognize revenue -- not until customers go into production."

This is a big issue because of Microstrategy, another e-commerce highflyer, now much less so following recent restatements of revenues for 1998 and 1999.

Vignette's biggest problem, says Daniel, is -- surprise -- finding good people.

Even so, it has grown from 100 to 1,100 people in the last 19 months.

Daniel said that Vignette's 500 customers give the company 25 percent of the e-commerce applications market, way more than anyone else.

These customers include AT&T, BMW, CBS, CNet, Daimler/Chrysler, Drug Emporium, FedEx, Simon & Schuster, Sprint, Tandy, United Airlines, and Waste Management.

Daniel said 35 percent of Vignette's customers are dot-coms -- companies doing business only on the Internet.

I'm not sure what's a good dot-com percentage or which way Vignette should want theirs to go.

Recent product news from Vignette indicates what's happening overall in e-commerce applications.

Vignette is announcing a "foundation" of powerful objects for e-commerce applications -- in content management, personalization, and high-throughput delivery of dynamic content -- plus "powerpacks" of common applications.

Vignette's message to prospects, such as you, dear reader, is that using its foundation and powerpacks reduces time to market.

These behaviors are reminiscent of markets in which winning platforms soon emerged.

The important platform questions are no longer Intel vs. RISC vs. VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word), nor assembler vs. C++ vs. Java, nor Windows vs. Unix vs. Linux (if you insist), nor Netscape vs. Explorer vs. WAP (Wireless Access Protocol). The new important platform questions are above all that.

Which e-commerce applications platform should you choose to keep your businesses competitive online?

I'll have to get back to you on that.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe's weekly Webcasts originate at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesdays from a new Vignette site, www.itworld.com/metcalfe.

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