Barney's Rubble

Is VMware the Next Netscape?

Will Microsoft's virtualization products push VMware out of its own niche?

Netscape was the cat's pajamas back in the early '90s. It had more buzz than Microsoft or Apple and seemed poised for eternal greatness. Many blame its downfall on Microsoft's move to make Internet Explorer a permanent part of Windows, thus killing demand for a browser you had to download.

I blame Netscape's failure on arrogance. I was a software reporter at Infoworld when Netscape began in 1994. When Netscape peaked a few years later, I was news editor at Network World, where one of my best reporters covered the browser company. Netscape was borderline rude to the press -- and the press is a group that in large measure dictates a company's image. Netscape's Marc Andreessen gave fewer U.S. press interviews than Kim Jong Il.

Ignoring the press isn't the end of the world, but giving short shrift to potential technology partners is. At that time, Lotus was Redmond's biggest rival and was dying to partner with Netscape. Lotus made the first move, but Netscape execs claimed they were "too busy" to seriously talk to Lotus. I heard the same thing from other major software players -- they weren't even given the time of day.

When the Windows 95/IE juggernaut put the hurt on Netscape, there was no one there to slow its fall: no Lotus and little sympathy from the press.

VMware is in the same danger, but has time to turn around. As editorial director of Virtualization Review magazine, I meet with virtualization third parties all the time. The verdict is nearly unanimous: Microsoft is far easier for partners to work with. This may be a temporary phenomenon, but it's luring third parties over to Microsoft Hyper-V.

Another issue I think VMware has to confront is supporting other hypervisors. VMware has an ambitious and technically elegant plan to run a huge part of your datacenter, in essence letting you build an on-premises cloud that interacts seamlessly with VMware-based external clouds. But this is a huge commitment and IT fears yet another vendor lock-in. The whole push among virtualization third parties is to be hypervisor-agnostic. IT, likewise, wants to mix and match hypervisors.

VMware needs to come to grips with both of these realities. It's a brilliant company, and has time to change. My advice? Be nice as pie to all third parties, and as much as it hurts, make everything that drives off the hypervisor work just as well with Xen and Hyper-V.

By the way, VMware does not, in my experience, come off as arrogant, and as a journalist the company is a joy to work with. I want VMware to keep setting the world on fire, but for its future's sake, the company needs to address these two issues.

What's your take on the future of VMware? Shoot me a line at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Nov 12, 2010

VMW is innovating for sure, but they can't keep pace with what start ups in the area are doing. I know some start ups that have great product for Hyper-V, but are struggling to get a foothold in vSphere because VMW doesn't care about them. I believe VMW is doing a huge favor to MSFT with this attitude. VMW is here to stay, but they will allow MSFT to be a strong player by ignoring innovative third parties.

Fri, Nov 12, 2010

So Netscape came off as arrogant, and didn't give interviews, but VMWare is a joy to work with as a journalist and therefore will suffer the same fate as Netscape. HUH?

Fri, Nov 12, 2010

So, did that happen with Oracle? It’s still the best and most reliable database in the market (period). Did that happen to Google? It’s still the number one search engine on the planet, hands down. The Netscape example is what Microsoft always use to spread their FUD into the market. One last fact from Gartner: “Microsoft Hyper-V is not gaining any market share.”

Wed, Nov 3, 2010

They may be. The pattern is familiar. Someone makes the best product and produces it making millions. Microsoft comes in, includes it into their stack natively, and even though it isn't as good, it is good enough. Then, as people find the economy squeezing their budget, they move to the free version that is good enough. Then the company goes downhill - FAST. You saw it with Netscape and Novell (active directory), as well as several less common ones. Others have successfully fought off the onslaught, while still others are currently fighting it before it is too late (anti-virus industry anyone?). The big difference I see here that may work to their advantage is VMware is not sitting still, and they are not innovating just for products they already have. They are moving with Microsoft - making older commoditized software cost less and or free - and at the same time solving new issues with new and elegant solutions. This is their only hope and thusfar they have been very successful. If they ever stop that success story, however, they will be another name in IT history as you have pointed out.

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