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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