The search for meaning amid vendor puff

In an industry that is totally dominated by marketing hype and so insidiously shaped by vendor puff, sometimes it is hard to find meaning in all the drivel.

I can confidently assume IT managers know exactly what I am talking about and can immediately sympathize.

Take Microsoft as an example. Over at Redmond a trillion software vulnerabilities is known as Trustworthy Computing.

Even more comical, SAP executives are most indignant if you refer to NetWeaver as middleware.

As executives patiently explained to me last week (at the Sapphire user conference in Brisbane), NetWeaver is an "enterprise services platform". Well, of course it is, silly me!

And if you think this fanciful environment couldn't get any worse, just throw in a few lawyers.

The IT industry's alchemical ability to turn lead into gold was at its shining best this week when the trial between Oracle and the US Department of Justice (DoJ) began with typical fanfare and flourish.

I suspect someone has taken pity on the trial Judge Vaughn Walker by giving him a bit of a heads up as he didn't tolerate too many theatrics from either side by reducing opening arguments to 45 minutes each although both sides requested an hour and a half.

The trial is expected to last a month with a veritable who's who of the industry expected to take the stand.

PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway has been instructed to be available to give testimony in court on June 29 despite protests that he will miss an important customer conference.

So, are enterprise customers dependent on three vendors in the enterprise software market?

That is the multi-billion-dollar question and one that will determine if Oracle's hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft goes ahead.

DoJ is arguing the takeover will stifle competition and lead to price hikes for customers of as much as 28 percent!

Now, that's a hefty price hike in anyone's terms, even in an industry accustomed to paying for functionality they do not use and the promise of functionality yet to come.

The US government described the market in question as "high function" human resources and financial management software.

This definition was dismissed by Oracle as "fiction", dreamed up to make the impact of the merger seem greater than it actually will be. (I have to agree, high function? Not always).

But seriously, legal experts claim the case hinges in large part on the DoJ's ability to convince the judge that the market it describes actually exists. Oracle says the definition is "confusing and meaningless".

You see, Oracle is seeking to demonstrate that there are plenty of high-function software vendors out there, especially when it comes to best of breed solutions and the option to outsource back-end functions.

To make its case, each side is planning an IT industry celebrity rollcall of witnesses.

The DoJ is calling on Micosoft's Doug Burgum and Oracle is wheeling out the head of IBM's software group Steve Mills and SAP AG executive Richard Knowles. Interestingly, Oracle has scheduled six hours of testimony from PeopleSoft's Conway.

DoJ may also use videotaped deposition testimony from the man himself, Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison.

So if you think these executives save their best performances for customer conferences, think again. At this trial the best is yet to come.

Are there too few "high function" providers?

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