The blockbuster film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow paints a vision of what some in the 1930s thought the future would look like. That vision is a world of flying vehicles, ray guns and ironclad mechanoids stamping across New York. Needless to say, that future didn’t appear. The future of technology, you see, is unpredictable and is often seen through the lens of our present reality…
Twenty years ago, for example, Microsoft was establishing itself as a purveyor of desktop operating systems. No one, not even Microsoft, expected it would enter the field of Application Lifecycle Management, yet that’s exactly what the company will do next year with Visual Studio 2005 Team System, VSTS.
After 20 years of leaving ALM to specialized companies like Borland Software and IBM’s Rational Software, Microsoft has recognized a huge market potential in ALM. The difference between now and 20 years ago, is we are at the tail end of a tech spending boom, with customers attempting to squeeze value from existing investments, while trying to architect web services-based enterprise systems that are manageable, scalable, and efficient to produce.
This means ISVs are now attempting to deliver strategies and tools that assist development teams in modeling, testing and management, and help improve communications and collaboration across increasingly distributed environments.
Microsoft is now looking to the future, and believes that during the next 20 years it can create a mass market for ALM with VSTS. The company is offering the prospect of innovative pricing and licensing, and easy-to-use features it hopes will convert millions of Visual Basic, C/C++, and C Sharp developers into ALM aficionados. In the past, ALM has been restricted, through high price points and complex feature sets, to the ‘high priests’ of application development.
However, as much as no one expected Microsoft to enter ALM 20 years ago, we should be wary of Microsoft’s predictions for the next 20 years. By delivering ALM tools that are currently offered by incumbents, Microsoft will cannibalize certain sections of the ALM market, forcing those incumbents to graze the higher slopes of the IT valley in order to survive. For many ISVs, that means turning to vertical markets.
While Microsoft has indeed collected some bright thinkers from both Borland and Rational in recent years to drive VSTS, the competition remains out front on a feature-set basis and can be expected to continue innovating. While Microsoft will surely catch up during a three- to five-year period, the company faces the additional challenge of convincing the highly demanding audience of developers that VSTS works, while achieving buy-in among C-level management at customer sites.
In the meantime, the attention span of Microsoft and the industry must be called into question as regards ALM. For an industry so young, 20 years represents several lifetimes, and during the next two decades you should expect many new technology crusades as companies reinvent strategy and invade new markets.
What if Microsoft does eventually succeed in creating a mass ALM market? Will anyone even remember ALM in 20 years? According to author Nicholas Carr, IT is a utility – important but not interesting – while ALM is just a small sector of the overall IT pie.
Borland, meanwhile, launched Software Delivery Optimization in September: a strategy that could turn software development and ALM into as much a matter-of-fact process as manufacturing.
In the meantime, don’t discount the rise of unforeseen competitors, new trends, acquisitions, mergers, ongoing antitrust battles, and other as yet unheard of technologies. By 2024, these could overtake ALM and VSTS, leaving them to look both dated and dusty – a collection of ideas defined by a people whose primary concerns were low IT spending and empowering business managers by providing them with greater visibility into the software development process.