Despite professing to have a close relationship with Microsoft, SAP AG is steadily implementing an overarching strategy that spans rival component architectures from Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
SAP aims to offer every possible avenue of connecting to its enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications or to build new ones, even if it means working with competing vendors.
That is the conclusion many observers are drawing from the slew of announcements SAP made earlier this month at its annual TechEd '98 conference in the US. This contrasts with the message SAP issued in 1997 about its close partnership with Microsoft.
SAP wants to present itself as "the de facto standard for business process automation", as a backbone to which other applications and databases will plug in, said Rick Pitts, director of SAP's complementary software program.
SAP will support Microsoft's Visual Studio 6.0 development tool, as well as IBM's VisualAge for Java development tool. Also, SAP will write to Microsoft's flavour of Java, at Microsoft's request. However, the company will put most of its resources behind the Sun standard because it does not want to get tied too tightly to a proprietary product, according to Karl-Heinz Hess, head of systems technology development at SAP.
"It will be interesting to see how this works out, because last year at TechEd, Microsoft was very prevalent," said Scott Mulder, a systems analyst at Mannesmann Pipe & Steel. "Now Java's prevalent. I've never done anything with Java, but SAP has baited the hook enough now."
Analysts said SAP's embrace of Java is not wholly unexpected.
"The message here is 'connectivity' - R/3 is the centre of the universe. The developer community and the ISV community are being provided with the integration they need to work with and on the periphery of R/3," said Josh Greenbaum, an analyst at the Hurwitz Group.
"And that's potentially a real win-win situation for customers, because they're generally pretty agnostic when it comes to technology."