Microsoft: Best of breed doesn't work

Microsoft says best of breed solutions are simply too complex, and firms like IBM milk clients for consultancy fees. Meanwhile IBM accuses Microsoft of using .Net to create lock-in
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

Building infrastructures based on best of breed concepts does not work, according to Microsoft's group manager in Europe for .Net technical evangelism, Neil Hutson.

Speaking in a debate with IBM's senior consultant architect Keith Edwards at the NetEvents industry gathering in Montreux, Switzerland over the weekend, Hutson said companies who build using best of breed products -- which means picking the best software, the best operating system and the best hardware for a particular job -- invariably end up with a mess.

"When you start to pick best of breed solutions... the word is complexity," said Hutson. "Suddenly you need good organisation to manage that." Taking a sideswipe at his adversary, Hutson added, "I'm sure IBM has excellent consulting skills to do that." But generally, he said, if companies buy best of breed, they "end up with a mess."

Predictably given IBM's large range of hardware, operating system and software platforms, Edwards disagreed: "Multi-vendor systems can be complex," he said, "but that will be true now matter how you build it."

Hutson contended that because Microsoft runs everything on the Windows platform, it is working to link Web services together using the .Net framework, but IBM's Edwards was having none of it. "If I am a consumer on a service I couldn't care less how it is built so long as I can gain access," he said. "But if I am creating a service then I need to build it so I can plug in from any platform."

SOAP does this to an extent, he said, "but while .Net is open, (Bill) Gates has said you get a richer experience if you have .Net client on your device -- that is what I call lock-in." The industry needs true open standards, he contended, "with no first tier and second tier services" depending on which platform people are accessing them from.

Hutson dismissed this charge, saying Microsoft is willing to adopt open standards for integration. "We are supporting open standards for communication -- XML as primary delivery... (and) WAP and HTML. They are our three areas of open support." Hutson said Microsoft is under no illusion that Windows will rule the world: "We are working in heterogeneous environments. Microsoft has always worked with Unix, Novel and mainframes very well."

This is fine, said Edwards, but true Web services integration needs the same level of functionality on every platform. The question is, he said, that while Microsoft and .Net can help a company build Web services on the Windows platform, who will help them build the services at the other end, supposing that these are Unix, Linux or mainframe systems.

His answer to his own question was IBM: "We build the tools for other end," Edwards told the audience. "We have no proprietary interest for software on any platform. Of course we would like to sell our own hardware, but we sell it based on price/performance. Microsoft's version is: you can only interoperate properly on the Windows platform."

"In the enterprise space most customers work in a heterogeneous environment," said Edwards. "The question is, what type of environment will help you work; one that says focus on one platform, or one that says no matter what you're platform is, we can help you? We used to push single platform in 80s, but now we have learnt our lesson. Now we're forced to compete on excellence."

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