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Microsoft’s purchase of ProClarity – the bigger picture

Deal leaves strong competition out there

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Comment There’s a large and obvious hole in Microsoft’s line-up of functionality in SQL Server 2005: Analysis Services is a solid multi-dimensional database engine but Microsoft offers no means of graphically displaying the data it handles. The need for such tools increases hugely when dealing with multi-dimensional data: users are perfectly at home with 2-D views offered by bar charts and graphs, but visualising data in three and more dimensions becomes increasingly difficult and requires specialised software. Until now, users have had to look to third party offerings for visualisation tools.

There’s been a rumour floating round for several years that Microsoft would have liked to buy ProClarity in order to plug this gap but, as a Microsoft insider pointed out, when dealing with a privately-owned company such as ProClarity, wanting to buy is not enough; the will to sell is also required. The counter rumour has always been that Bob Lokken, founder, President and CEO was having too much fun running the company to want to sell it. However the pressure to sell (or the financial incentive) eventually proved overwhelming: Microsoft recently announced that it is to buy ProClarity Corp., though the deal still has to go through process.

Where does this leave the competition? Experience in the software industry suggests that the standard operating procedure for competitors who haven’t been bought out is to run round like headless chickens before imploding. Panorama and Temtec might be expected to behave so - but both companies look smarter than this. They can listen to the rumour mill just as well as the rest of us. That may well have encouraged them to turn their thoughts to their survival if/when ProClarity became the chosen one.

Panorama has focused, amongst other things, on developing a very high performance middle-tier engine (NovaView Intelligence Server) which is capable of supporting more than a thousand simultaneous users. The company has also been actively diversifying its user base, recently gaining certification for integration into the SAP Enterprise Portal and is currently pursing certification for SAP NetWeaver (see press release here).

Incidentally, Panorama has itself already survived being bought by Microsoft: in 1996 Microsoft bought Panorama’s multi-dimensional OLAP technology and closely-involved personnel and from this purchase formed the SQL Server multi-dimensional database engine team.

Temtec, on the other hand, appears to have adopted a different survival strategy. Its Executive Viewer software has always supported not only Analysis Services but also Hyperion’s Essbase. You think this isn’t enough? Well, Temtec clearly offers something that ProClarity doesn’t because, just a fortnight before the ProClarity buy-out was made public, Temtec announced a software distribution agreement with Microsoft. Executive Viewer will be marketed as a ‘private label version’ by Microsoft, as part of its analytical platform.

When one company is plucked from a niche market it’s rare to find the remaining companies looking in such good shape for the future. Microsoft may have harboured hopes that buying ProClarity’s visualisation software would torpedo the opposition, but in this case the opposition seems more than capable of damning the torpedoes and steaming full ahead.®

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