Microsoft Took Less Traveled Road to Enterprise Tools

Microsoft set out to tackle enterprise tools in 1999. In 2006, the company finally has a foothold in the application lifecycle management space.

Despite having clear goals in mind, Microsoft took a winding road to finally get a foothold in the enterprise tools space.

Rick LaPlante, general manager of VSTS (Visual Studio Team System), said Microsoft "meandered down this path" to the ALM (application lifecycle management) space.

"We said lets do some modeling tools. Then we said lets go buy a big company that shall be nameless. Well, that turned out to be a bad idea. Then we said lets go do our own thing because our value proposition is integration."

The company that LaPlante would not name was Rational Software Corp., which Microsoft looked at but took a pass on. IBM then announced its intent to acquire Rational for $2.1 billion in December, 2002 and then closed the deal in February 2003.

And what LaPlante would not say, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did say in an interview with eWEEK last year at the launch of Visual Studio 2005.

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"We looked at Rational before IBM bought it," Ballmer said. "The number of actual seats and users they have is tiny. And so if you can take some of the good concepts and put them in an ease-of-use package and at a price point that you can get out, I think developers want this stuff. You just have to make it easy enough to use and at the right price."

Despite passing on acquiring Rational, the software giant went on to woo several Rational developers to come to Redmond to help build VSTS. Indeed, sources said Microsoft courted Grady Booch, Rationals chief scientist, but he decided to remain with IBM.

Yet, what started as a simple idea to expand Microsofts presence in the enterprise is now the main driver of the companys developer division.

"We think this is clearly going to be the growth engine for developer tools," S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsofts developer division, said. "And so far life is good."

LaPlante gave a bit of history on Microsofts initial push into enterprise tools.

"I remember around 1999 I had to get in front of Bill [Gates, chairman and chief software architect] and Steve [Ballmer] and say we should go into the enterprise tools business," LaPlante said.

"And the enterprise tools business in 1999, who really cared a lot about that, right? It was an uninteresting business," he said.

"So I went to them and said we really have to do something here," LaPlante continued. "I said theres an opportunity for us because this is whats been holding people back from building enterprise applications on our platform.

"Weve got to get the platform capabilities there. And remember in 1999 we had the roadmap for how to get the platform there, but this needed to be the next big thing."

And what was Gates response? "I remember precisely Bill saying to me: What makes us think we can do something here that these other guys havent done in the last 20 years?"

Next Page: A new approach to enterprise tools.