BEA + IBM = YAC (Yet Another Catfight)

It's not magic that more people know IBM's WebSphere than BEA's WebLogic.

Its a two-horse race in the application server world. IBM admits it. BEA admits it. Even PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway mentioned it in a conference last month. Oracle and Sun, of course, have other ideas. But what was once the most important new category in the application stack has been reduced to a catfight between two "surviving" players.

On one side is BEA, a quirky company that goes into hypermarketing mode only in fits and starts. It gets aggressive, like every other good company, but it does so awkwardly. Its as if a bunch of smart coders finally get tired of being thrown on the defensive by some competitors outrageous claim. The company then rebels—for 25 minutes. Then its over.

Meanwhile, IBM takes a road so high that few understand its strategy. The company talks as if its the leader in every category, yet no one knows if this is true. IBM keeps individual sales private, so were left to trust the companys figures. Meanwhile, IBM repackages everything under certain brand names, such as WebSphere, which is by far the best marketing scheme ever concocted in the enterprise space. Its not magic that more people know IBMs WebSphere than BEAs WebLogic. At least half of IBMs product line now includes the WebSphere label. But no one really knows how many WebSphere application servers are actually sold.

Now that the application server is somewhat commoditized by J2EE, its no longer as relevant to the development framework. What is relevant is the development framework as a whole. Sun knows this, Microsoft knows this and BEA knows it, too. IBM has a rich array of tools but rarely puts that aggressive marketing spin behind them. IBM would rather sell the services. "BEA sells software," said BEA Chief Marketing Officer Tod Nielsen. "IBM is selling serviceware."

Almost, but not quite. WebSphere edges WebLogic on many performance tests, such as ECperf, indicating theres at least some product involved. Both are schooled by Oracle, which takes performance seriously when it wants to be taken seriously. Instead of performance, BEA says WebLogic makes developers more efficient. Thats as ambiguous as IBMs WebSphere claims.

Clearly, we need better metrics for determining whats useful. Otherwise, well be stuck with this puffery for years to come.

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