Microsoft delays Vista and enters the CRM hosted space. Stuart Lauchlan feigns surprise.

Microsoft operating system delayed. As news headlines go, it’s kind of up there with Queen Anne’s dead and the Pope is Catholic. I mean given the company’s track record, it was hardly unexpected. So will Vista be delayed? Do ursine creatures defecate in forest environments?

So what’s gone wrong this time? Vista is incredibly important to Microsoft. XP is coming up for its fifth birthday, which is positively decrepit in computing terms. Microsoft badly wanted to get Vista out there in time for the Christmas shopping season.

One problem is sheer complexity. XP in its own right is an enormously complex piece of software engineering and the entire Windows code base has grown and grown. Microsoft may be finding it has too much spaghetti on its plate and is struggling to unpick it all.

Another clue lies in the corporate reorganisation announced at the same time. A new management team has been brought into the Windows division to: “lay the foundation for accelerating our pace of innovation, including focusing on ways to improve clarity of decision making, drive greater accountability and reduce layers in the organisation so we can move faster”. In other words, we’ve got ourselves in a corporate mess and we need some new blood to sort it out.

The analyst firm, Directions On Microsoft, put it more prosaically, describing Microsoft as “such a collection of smart people that they’ve started to believe too much in themselves”. Whatever the reason, consumers gagging to get their hands on Vista will have to wait until early next year.

So you can either put off purchasing a new PC until then – or faff around with upgrade certificates and install Vista yourself when it finally gets out the door. Of course, you could go and buy a nice new Apple computer instead.

And that’s the set if I’m counting correctly. Microsoft’s announcement of hosted CRM makes the full deck of major applications vendors staking a claim in this space, despite all those fervent protestations that this was something best left to partners and not something that Microsoft would be doing itself.

But here we go with Titan (modest as ever, Microsoft), a multi-tenancy CRM offering – aka a Salesforce.com buster. Now comes the tricky part. As MIS UK went to press it looked as though the politically correct version of this announcement was to the effect that Microsoft will be happy for customers to host its CRM if requested.

In other words, only if there’s a danger that the self same customer might pick up the phone and call Salesforce.com. But it will not be pushing this offering at customers as there would then be obvious channel conflict with its partner network, many of whom already offer a hosted option.

The partners are going to have to be mature about this one. Microsoft really has no choice but to offer its own hosted option. The market demands it. In the CRM space, Microsoft is finding itself in the unusual position of not being able to dictate what the market does. In fact it’s having to react to the agenda being set by smaller companies in the shape of Salesforce.com and Netsuite. Whichever way this all pans out, the important thing is that Microsoft finally has some skin in the game. The challenge for buyers is to work out who genuinely has hosted religion and who just goes to church at Easter and Christmas.

For Salesforce.com, Netsuite and RightNow, hosting and on-demand are strategic offerings; for Oracle (aka Siebel) and SAP it’s clearly tactical – deep down they’d really prefer you have an on-premises version and in Oracle’s case, buy some databases to kickstart its flagging revenue base. Microsoft so far looks like joining SAP and Oracle in the tactical – or perhaps opportunistic – camp. As ever, buyer beware.

Great gag on one of the Salesforce.com blog sites. Following the outages of service earlier this year, Salesforce.com assured subscribers that it was working closely with Oracle (its database provider) to address infrastructure issues and that CEO Marc Benioff had spoken to Oracle’s Larry Ellison – his old boss – directly. Naughty contributors to the Salesforce.com blog imagine the call went something like…

Benioff: Hey Larry, it’s Marc – your database software is putting our service out of action. What are you going to do about it?
Ellison: How did you get this number?
This is of course a scurrilous and totally implausible idea: Larry Ellison would never answer his own phone.