Opinion: May the best tech win

The best technology doesn't always win. Blame poor marketing, bad timing, or just plain dumb luck, but the dustbins of history are lined with examples of superior technologies that failed to capture market share. Everyone mentions Betamax, which had its clock cleaned by VHS. But I prefer to cite personal favorite XyWrite, a fast, flexible app from the late '80s that made competing word processors look like manual typewriters. Ditto the 64-bit DEC Alpha, which had the chops but not the marketing muscle needed to win.

I've been ruminating on this issue since reading "BEA announces Liquid Computing," an analysis of latest announcements from BEA Systems, a company with top-flight technology but perhaps not always top-flight marketing, timing, or luck.

This is not to say that BEA's products have failed. But BEA finds itself looking up at IBM and its WebSphere product line while struggling to be heard above Microsoft, which is belting out a similar SOA (service-oriented architecture) tune. In other words, BEA has its work cut out for it. Last week's announcement of the SOA-centric Liquid Computing initiative at its eWorld show indicates the company is working to offer a coherent, integrated vision of its product line. History suggests that's wiser than just putting out superior technologies and assuming that IT will get the picture.

Meanwhile, Microsoft was hosting TechEd 2004, where Whidbey, the next version of Visual Studio, is getting lots of play ("Preview: Visual Studio 2005"). Microsoft's keen understanding of user habits and needs, coupled with savvy marketing, have often won the hearts, minds, and wallets of IT -- even in the face of comparable or even superior technologies. But right now MS finds itself on the defensive, trying to woo back developers disgruntled by heavy-handed changes in Visual Studio .Net.

The irony is that those changes were driven by profound advances in Microsoft's approach to software development, as embodied by .Net and its innovative Web services model. But because .Net was hard to explain and demanded that users change their ways, it left Microsoft developers clinging to Visual Studio 6 or casting a longing eye toward Java.

With Whidbey, Microsoft is trying to make amends, submerging .Net (as a brand, at least) and reintroducing many familiar work styles ditched by VS .Net. Add in the new VS Team for life-cycle management, and VS 2005 will offer a powerful inducement to both developers and the enterprise. The technology, even in beta, certainly seems strong enough. Come next year, the market will get a chance to render a verdict.

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