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To Buy BEA, Or Not. That is Microsoft's Question.

Happy New Year, Microsoft! Happy New Year, Bill! Happy New Year, Steve! Or is it? Before the ball could even drop in Times Square, the folks at Redmond were already putting out fires and planning possible open source moves for 2004. Accentuating the positive can't come too soon for software kingpin Microsoft, which had a so-so year in 2003, with a flat stock price, some losses in court, and an underwhelming new Office System suite.

Putting the early hurt on Microsoft was the government of Israel, which said it wasn't planning on upgrading its Office software, but would encourage development of cheaper open-source alternatives"with Sun and IBM prepping a Hebrew version of OpenOffice. Oy vey.

But Redmond finally might put some walk to its talk on broadening its Windows-only worldview. First, the behemoth took the trouble to poll Linux users to find out just what they like about open-source software. You could call it an open overture to listen to potential customers. Plus, rumors swirled that Microsoft might buy up BEA Systems, a possible move into Java development that would bolster a previous .Net-dominated environment. Gartner saw it as a logical move for both companies.

Also on the good foot, 95 percent of Microsoft resellers surveyed said they foresaw revenue growth in 2004. And those partners represent the bread and butter for Microsoft income in software sales to IT shops. Still, the year 2004 will certainly have its challenges for the software giant, with Directions on Microsoft outlining 10 big ones. High on the list? Showing some maturity, boosting security, and solidifying its Longhorn road map. A nice set of resolutions, if Redmond wants to start the New Year right.

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