Microsoft's Next Target

Being a Mac user, I've been trained to believe that there are few redeeming qualities about Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) . But I'm not that kind of Mac user. I think, by and large, the software that Microsoft makes for the Mac is pretty good. And I use much of it, including all of the Microsoft Office productivity applications.

Still, there is one really ruthless and loathsome attribute to Mr. Softy. Belying its name, Microsoft rarely comes off as either small or soft. Instead, it destroys just about anything that impedes its progress. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is, of course, the most famous victim. But Apple doesn't quit. In fact, it's thriving again. Better examples of true victims would be Netscape, now a part of Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) America Online, and Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL  ) , which was forced to reinvent itself as an open-source company after Microsoft all but eradicated Word Perfect and NetWare from public view.

Now comes news that the company is set to release to partners its second-generation software for managing customer relationships. It's a category commonly known as CRM, and it's been dominated for years by ailing Siebel Systems (Nasdaq: SEBL  ) , and, more recently, upstart Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) . The details unfold at two of Mr. Softy's largest global conferences for partners, both slated for later this week, News.com reports.

Microsoft says its latest foray is aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses that use Office. And the goal, according to Brad Wilson, manager of CRM for Microsoft, is to provide the most user-friendly CRM software on the market. Sounds like a noble aim, doesn't it? Sure, but Microsoft's move has nothing to do with altruism. The intent, instead, is to upset the applecart in an industry that it has failed to penetrate after years of trying.

It could work, too. Microsoft won't release the software till next year, when a working, on-demand version (accessible via the Web) is available. I like the idea. Why? Because it takes away the competitive advantage that helped Salesforce.com cripple Siebel, all the while capitalizing on the millions of users already addicted to Office.

Make no mistake, Fools: When Microsoft goes hunting in a market, it usually comes away with a sack full of big game. Well, it's hunting season in CRM County. You might want to keep your portfolios out of the way.

Find more hard-edged coverage of Mr. Softy here:

  • The CRM battle looks like a skirmish compared to Microsoft's new clone war.
  • Check out Apple v. Microsoft, round two.
  • Think Microsoft's team-up with SAP (NYSE: SAP  ) will help it win against Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) ?

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers wishes Mr. Softy would part with some more of its hard-earned cash. Tim owns shares of Oracle. You can find out what else is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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