Who would you work for if not for the company that currently employs you?
For many right now this is a somewhat pointless question: with so many people unemployed, the answer is, "I'd work for anyone that could cut me a paycheck every other week."
Bad as things may be at present, however, they will get better. As the economy heats up, and it eventually will, which software companies are poised to make the biggest impact on the industry for the coming five, 10, and 50 years?
I asked this question over Twitter on Monday, and received some interesting replies. Google, Amazon, Canonical (Ubuntu), Red Hat, Mozilla (Firefox), Adobe, and Cisco were some of the replies.
Interestingly, a few of the companies--Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM--didn't make the list. I understand why Microsoft and IBM might not make the cut, but Oracle?
Oracle is far more interesting than its image as the quintessential market consolidator suggests: its new foray into "software as a service" applications to challenge its upstart neighbor Salesforce.com is but one demonstration of its boundless ambition, and its apparent continued commitment to open source make it a hugely disruptive vendor.
But maybe people are more focused on the new kids on the enterprise block? If so, Google is an interesting choice. Everyone knows how successful it has been in the search market, but Google also stands to make a deep and lasting impact on the enterprise software market, as TechCrunch recently pointed out.
Not that Google has a free ride ahead of it. It's already starting to feel the pressure posed by private clouds, and might discover that not every CIO is willing to outsource its computing to the Google cloud. Even so, I expect Google to make big noise in the enterprise.
But the other company that I think gets little attention here, and perhaps because it feels more like a foundation than a corporation, is Mozilla. Given the importance of the browser to computing, Mozilla, which sits at the heart of Firefox development, arguably has the potential to impact consumer and enterprise markets more than any other company.
But first it has to want to do so, and it's by no means clear that Mozilla has this particular ambition.
As described in an internal presentation, Mozilla CEO John Lilly identifies a growing tension in Mozilla's mission to "promote choice and innovation on the Internet" as its employee base scales up and its impact on the market scales out.
In his words, Mozilla needs to determine the appropriate balance between "pragmatics" (how Mozilla functions) with "poetry" (why Mozilla does what it does). Mozilla today functions mostly as a foundation that develops an exceptional Web browser, among other things. How will that mission change once its current market share of 22 percent rises to 50 percent? Which new markets will it enter? Office productivity, perhaps, or something else?
Whatever it chooses, Mozilla will increasingly step on more toes than Microsoft's, including, perhaps, that of its own community, as suggested in the recent "extension war" between AdBlock Plus and NoScript, and in the process could become both more and less interesting as a disruptive force in software.
This leaves Canonical, Red Hat, Amazon, Cisco, Adobe, and others that you no doubt believe should be on the list. Who do you think will transform enterprise software most over the next 10 years? 50?
Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.