In-Depth

10 Challengers to Microsoft

Redmond has no shortage of rivals that want a piece of its business. While there are certainly more than 10, these competitors are keeping Microsoft's top execs up at night.

  • VMware Inc.: The virtualization market leader might be losing a bit of momentum to Microsoft, but it has the product line, the innovation, the leadership and the customer base to sit atop the virtual mountain for some time to come. VMware is no small corporate fish on its own, but it also has the backing of storage giant EMC Corp.
  • Google Inc.: Microsoft hasn't really come close to catching Google in consumer search, but there are new, lucrative battlegrounds at stake now that are right in Microsoft's enterprise wheelhouse. Google and Microsoft are already waging huge battles - with each side scoring victories - to become key providers of cloud-based applications and services. Both titans have the wherewithal to carry the fight for years to come. And then there's the Android mobile OS, which is already taking over taking over the smartphone market. The Google Chrome OS looms as a potential challenger to Windows, too.
  • Salesforce.com Inc.: Marc Benioff is more than just an outspoken CEO and Microsoft baiter. He's also one of the leaders of the Software as a Service (SaaS) revolution, as his company's "No Software" motto indicates. Microsoft, with Dynamics CRM Online, is trying to catch up with its competitor in customer relationship management (CRM), but Salesforce.com's lean operation and lack of client software make it a formidable competitor.
  • Oracle Corp.: In the business-apps game, such as enterprise resource planning, Oracle has a lead on Microsoft that will be tough for Redmond to erase. Of course, Oracle is also a longtime leader and aggressive competitor in the database market, as well as an acquisition hound that eats up many of the third-party vendors that contribute innovative products to the industry as a whole.
  • IBM Corp.: The old gray mare isn't what she used to be - she's reinvented herself over the last 15 years and is now a formidable competitor in cloud computing, consulting and software development. IBM has the name, the legacy, the talent and the vision to be a major player in the cloud - which is, after all, not that different from Big Blue's old, and still massively successful, mainframe model.
  • Alfresco Software Inc.: Alfresco's business model is based on two words that have caused equal parts fear and confusion on the Microsoft campus: open source. In this case, the focus is on Web development and enterprise content management, two major areas of focus for Microsoft, which now has a billion-dollar business with SharePoint.
  • Apple Inc.: In the classic tech-industry movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley," Bill Gates shouts at Steve Jobs: "I got the loot, Steve!" These days, though, Gates is busy giving away his loot and the Apple CEO has guided his company to be one of the largest in the industry. If Redmond really wants to be a player in mobile devices, tablets and entertainment, it has an immense amount of catching up to do with Apple.
  • Amazon Web Services LLC: If anybody knows the Web, it's Amazon. The company was up and running online when Microsoft was still fumbling around trying to decide whether developing a browser might be a good idea. But the online bookseller is much more than a retail operation now; its enterprise Web services and cloud offerings are poised to compete extremely well with those of Google and Amazon's backyard neighbor, Microsoft. While Microsoft is catching up with its Windows Azure Platform, Amazon is still considered the top dog in cloud computing.
  • Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM): Another major mobile developer, another threat to Microsoft. The brand name BlackBerry is almost synonymous with business smartphones, and RIM is another company with a massive lead on Windows Phone 7 in the mobile marketplace. What's worse is that RIM is the first choice of enterprise smartphone users, who have to be among the primary targets for Microsoft's mobile ambitions.
  • Cisco Systems Inc.: The big networking company is about a lot more than networking now as it seriously moves into software development. Microsoft increasingly finds itself at odds with its California counterpart. In particular, unified communications (UC) - primarily represented in Redmond by the new Lync Server - will be a major battleground for these two companies, which provide an excellent example of the concept of "co-opetition."

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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