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Google and a beginning to a new era of enterprise software innovation

The enterprise software world of tomorrow may end up looking much like the consumer technology world of today.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google will definitely be bidding for US wireless spectrum in January.

If it wins a wireless license, Google would be in a position to become a provider of mobile phone and Internet services, to partner with others interested in doing so or to lease the spectrum to them. The company has said it wants to make mobile networks more open, so that consumers can use any Internet service and application and move their handsets between carriers without onerous restrictions.

Let's hope it wins. I've been critical of Google in the past, but one thing is clear: Google is an innovative company that builds useful things. Google continues to push the envelope on what we can do with our computers and with our phones. Look around and count how many truly innovative companies there are among the big software and telco companies. Not many.

In fact, Google may be the first of the next generation of software companies.

When I think about the "enterprise" software I use on a regular basis, few of last century's companies' names pop up. What software do I use most of the day? I use IM, blogging tools, email, Google (Search, Maps, and News), Microsoft Office/OpenOffice (depends on what I'm writing), Adobe's Photoshop (for presentations, blogs, etc.), wikis, Yahoo Finance, LinkedIn, and other "consumer" software.

Traditional software from traditional companies? Very, very little.

Granted, part of this stems from the fact that I work for a startup that does not (yet) have need for SAP, Oracle Applications, etc. As we approach that point, however, the open-source equivalents keep improving to the point that I doubt we'll need these standbys. Already we're getting along swimmingly with SugarCRM and are just kicking off Zimbra.

But even when I worked at big companies (Novell at 6,000 people and Mitsui & Co. at over 100,000), I didn't use the traditional enterprise software any more than I absolutely had to. It was utilitarian and filled a niche need, but it wasn't really all that relevant to driving my business. My business - any business - is mostly about finding and serving customers. Consumer software tends to be better suited toward that goal than "enterprise" software, in many ways.

So maybe the big surprise in all of this web froth is that the future of enterprise software isn't enterprise software at all. Maybe we'll wake up five years from now and be surprised to discover that where we spend our "free time" today - Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, etc. - will become work time tomorrow. That blogging, IM, texting, etc. that many use to chat with friends today will become the business communication of tomorrow.

Enterprise software at this point becomes much more interesting, because it will have learned that utilitarian doesn't have to equate with stodgy, complex, and boring. Enterprises will operate tomorrow more like consumers do today.

All of which means that the real enterprise software companies of tomorrow are probably the biggest consumer technology software/online brands of today: Google, Yahoo, Digg, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.