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Google Wave: Why it's so good and enterprise software is so bad

Google Wave is a great example of how innovation happens, and why it's not happening in enterprise software.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Watching the Google Wave demo last week and reading Tim O'Reilly's enthusiastic review, it struck me how amazingly cool Wave promises to be...and just how paltry most enterprise software remains.

Sure, you think: it's easy for Google to innovate. It has thousands of engineers!

Maybe. But I don't remember Microsoft coming up with Wave, and it has even more engineers. Neither did IBM, Oracle, SAP, etc.

Google did, and it started Wave with a small core team of two brothers, a core team that appears to have done much of the work gestating Wave to its currently demo-able state.

There's a very good reason that Google innovated Wave, and not, for example, IBM. Google has no incumbent enterprise products to which it must pay obeisance. Google doesn't even have a built-in background with the desktop that moors its vision of what is possible. Google, in other words, is creating an "innovator's dilemma" for the incumbent enterprise software vendors, entrapped by their own successful products and the need to appease employees and existing customers.

Google, in effect, starts from a tabula rasa, one heavily influenced by the Web and all that the Web can do. And so Google Wave is born, while Microsoft continues to churn out tired retreads of Exchange/Outlook, IBM gives us Lotus version 10,001, and Oracle works furiously to tie its collaboration products into its existing suite of heavy, "enterprise" software.

More depressingly, the start-up world of enterprise-software companies largely tries to mimic these old paradigms of what enterprise software means. Some do very well, but few break the mold and start again on what computing means, as Google has done with Wave.

The best the incumbents can hope for is that customers will buy heavily into Wave, and will come to expect Wave-like innovation from their existing vendors. This will likely require external acquisitions rather than internal development, and will also mean that executive management at the big software vendors don't allow internal politics to squeeze the life out of the products of incoming acquisitions.

In sum, Google Wave is much bigger than Google. It's a chance to show the enterprise software industry how to innovate again. (Hint: some of the best Wave innovation is yet to come, as significant parts of Wave will be released as open-source code to encourage add-ons, extensions, and other derivative works.)

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.