Brash Upstarts Lead Rising Web Application Platforms

There's some new software sheriffs in town, and they're not named Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle.

LAS VEGAS—Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle have driven the software market for so many years, were accustomed to seeing them lead new forays in high-tech.

Thats not the case in the emerging sector for Web platforms, where consumer-oriented vendors such as Google, and eBay are ruling the roost, said an analyst at the Gartner Web Innovation show here Sept. 20.

Gartner analyst David Mitchell Smith said Google,, eBay and others are building Web platforms that provide access to Web-based programming capabilities. These capabilities allow programmers to build composite applications, and even businesses, on the Web at a time when the Internet is growing as fast as ever.

Web platforms include infrastructure, applications, content, widgets and business process services. While Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle each provide some of these capabilities, theyre not delivering them from a Web platform capable of enabling application programming and development.

"The consumer-focused vendors are most mature in being what we call a Web platform from technology and community perspectives," Smith said. "Amazon, eBay and Google started out doing things designed for simple browser access. Now they provide developer APIs, and they have enabled you to use these capabilities through a programmatic interface."

For example, has created a services platform for third-party applications, including content services for retail partners, Web site hosting and discovery services, e-commerce Web services, and infrastructure services, including its elastic compute cloud, simple storage service and simple queue service.


Click here to read more about Amazon.coms foray into infrastructure services.

Another example of a Web platform at work is Google Gadgets, which are widgets, or interactive mini-applications, that can be placed anywhere on the users desktop to show new e-mail, weather, photos and personalized news. The search vendor also makes Google Gears, an open-source browser extension that lets developers create Web applications that can run offline.

Meanwhile, SAP, Oracle and other business application vendors are almost casually heading into Web platform territory through SOA (service-oriented architecture). That is, their client/server applications have evolved to support Web access and programmatic access, but little more.

"Enterprise vendors dont talk about this stuff very much," Smith said. "If you wanted to talk to them about it, youd probably have to start asking them, What are you doing about Web platforms? What are you doing to allow us to reuse the stuff that youve already done?"

However, Smith said SAP and Oracle are in a good position to offer Web platforms because of the link between their SOA software—with all of its emphasis on reusing assets—and the Web platform concept. SAP, incidentally, launched its on-demand application suite, Business ByDesign, on Sept. 19.


Read more here about SAPs Business ByDesign strategy.

IBM and Microsoft champion more enterprise-focused strategies, Smith said, putting them perhaps a little farther out from the Web platform concept as Gartner defines it.

However, Microsoft falls in between the consumer and enterprise camp, and is touting a software-plus-service strategy via Microsoft Live. Regardless, no one dismisses Microsofts ability to enter a market, particularly one where software platforms are the rub.

Smith noted IBM has these capabilities through its purchase of Webify and its developer tools, giving it the potential to play a role in the Web platform market. Moreover, IBM has a solid stealth application strategy and, like Microsoft, has the ability to quickly enter a market when it so chooses.

Asked by eWEEK when the public will see IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle delve deeper into the enterprise space for Web platforms, Smith said the companies with the closest ties to the consumer market will move first.

"I would expect Microsoft to do more than SAP and Oracle because they can leverage the success they get in the consumer spaces and small businesses," Smith said.

"SAP and Oracle have some small-business experience, so they go after that. IBM will probably go later because they are not as involved in small businesses that way, not from an application standpoint, and certainly not consumers," he added.


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