Which software vendors are the most relevant?

The 'Big Four' are such because of ambition and breadth of product portfolio, not simply because they sell a lot of software licenses.

My post on Tuesday suggesting that Oracle, IBM, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft are the last remaining big (software) ecosystem vendors caused a stir. "But what about EMC, Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Adobe Systems, Symantec, and...X?" came the flustered responses.

HP's public-relations firm even took the time to send me this plug for HP's software business:

IT management software is critical for enterprises to keep up with the continuous pace of technology change and growing business requirements. As the leading IT management software vendor (according to Gartner, Forrester, and IDC), HP's software solutions helps customers manage IT like a supply chain that is aligned to the needs of the business, and makes sure they spend money on all the right things that will deliver the most value to the business.

Let's assume that's true. It still doesn't answer the underlying premise of my original post: identifying the most relevant, broad-based software vendors in the market, the ones with hefty ambitions and product portfolios to complement them.

HP has a strong IT management portfolio, as well as some content management software, among other software assets. But it doesn't come close to approximating the breadth and depth of what I deem the Big Four ecosystem players. Nor does EMC or Symantec.

Having $1 billion in software sales doesn't make you a Big Four, disruptive-software vendor. Vision and ambition also factor in.

With this in mind, the big software vendors that are dramatically changing the face of software include Oracle, IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft. Other software vendors may be relevant in their markets (who could discount SAP in the enterprise resource-planning market, even despite its earnings disappointment?), but they aren't changing the face of the software landscape.

Except, perhaps, Red Hat, which today lacks in the size, depth, and breadth categories but arguably makes up for these in the ambition department. Or, on that score, perhaps Google and Salesforce.com should make their way onto the list?

However you assemble the list, it's clear that it grows smaller by the day. Within a year, I think that we'll see SAP in the hands of one of the Big Four (Microsoft, perhaps?), and we may even see Red Hat factoring into an ecosystem vendor's product strategy, rather than crafting a go-it-alone open-source story.

Which vendors are most relevant to you? If you disagree with my list, please let me know why. Who should be on the list that isn't, and who should be off?


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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