Now that Microsoft has aired its Web-development plans for Windows 2000 and IBM is about to debut its latest spate of electronic-business tools this month, the race for best Internet-commerce vendor is on and running.
Currently leading the pack in the early stage of this race is IBM. The once stodgy Big Blue seems to have beaten the other major players -- Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems/America Online, BEA Systems, and SAP AG -- to delivering a comprehensive set of integrated tools by which enterprises and service providers can become dot com entities.
"In terms of the products, services, partnerships, and general depth of experience in this market, IBM has to be considered the front-runner," said Sally Cusack, an analyst at International Data Corporation (IDC), in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Analysts say the newest WebSphere- and VisualAge-oriented products, to be announced this week by IBM, do the dot com job -- both for IBM legacy shops and for the new breed of Web-only startups.
"IBM's new product set is well suited for enterprises transitioning to dot com," said Dave Kelly, an analyst at the Hurwitz Group, also in Framingham. "And this is true for companies that do not have an IBM legacy."
The e-business race, however, will not be over for years to come.
Last week, Microsoft announced a Windows 2000-based Web application package and services, due out next year, that uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) and messaging middleware, as well as its Babylon and BizTalk servers, to enable electronic commerce.
"If they can deliver and fulfil these services, it will open up the Microsoft platform and applications to a broader audience," said Kelly. "But Microsoft and other vendors have to integrate these new technologies."
To take advantage of the Microsoft solution, enterprises will have to upgrade their Microsoft platforms, but the arrival and dissemination of the major pieces of Microsoft's e-commerce solution are still 12 months away.
That means, for once, that timing seems to favour IBM.
"This is an important time," Kelly said. "I don't think that it means that IBM wins, because people will wait for new functionality. But top people are making strategic decisions now. They need to get their apps up and running."