uite when the e-commerce revolution will take off is anyone's guess. A decade or so ago, it was couched in terms of the Tradernet-style networks that were coming onto the market, although little is heard of them these days.
Part of the problem, of course, was that the hotpotch of platforms between manufacturers and their suppliers mitigated against smooth integration. The advent of Windows didn't help much either, given that it merely threw a spanner in the works for those organisations that had succeeded in melding disparate architectures so that electronic business forms looked the same at both ends.
The legacy of all this is that where e-commerce does exist, it's a definition that has to embrace ERP. The platform of favour remains Unix - if only because of its proven robustness. But all that looks set to change, and once again it's our old friend Mr Bill Gates in the driving seat.
Last week's announcement by Microsoft of its 'e-commerce vision for everyone' would seem to be more about the business-to-consumer market than heavy duty, supply chain management architectures.
Right on cue, our own government also seemed to be up there with Microsoft, pledging to make the UK the 'world's best environment for e-commerce' by building public trust in buying goods over the internet through the use of electronic signatures.
So it looks as if e-commerce really is about to take off, ushered in not just by widespread use of the internet, but by growing acceptance of the concept of electronic cash. It's a vision that goes beyond the precepts of mere ERP and instead defines a new social era in which consumers, retailers, manufacturers, suppliers et al are all part of the same digital loop. But if it's the same digital loop, could it be much the same software underpinning the e-commerce revolution a decade hence?
As NT grows in scalability, it's inevitable that Microsoft will cast its avaricious eye over the business-to-business end of e-commerce. Which is where there could soon be a falling out with its ERP 'partners' such as SAP, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards.
Microsoft's BizTalk is being touted as the new Esperanto for e-commerce, while its forthcoming Commerce Server, running on NT, is unashamedly aimed at SMEs and larger businesses that want to build their own e-commerce sites on the cheap.
Gates looks set on surrounding his e-commerce rivals, Apache-style, until their wagons are encircled. Microsoft's legion of certified solution providers will doubtless be cockahoop at this prospect, ushering in as it does a raft of potential business. But as the ERP vendors head down towards the SME market, sooner or later they'll be bruising up against a new legion of NT-cum-BizTalk-cum-Commerce Server vendors.
Meanwhile, the biggest ERP vendor of them all, SAP, is reportedly thinking of porting its wares to the free operating system, Linux. If that's not a sign of trouble at mill, I don't know what is.
Dave Evans is a freelance IT journalist.
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