Industry Reactions: Jeff Cole, Blue Marble Geographics

By Directions Staff

A few years ago I listened to Bill Gates talk about his vision of "information at your fingertips."

My take on his vision at the time was that it is the information and the empowering of that information that is important, not the application that "runs" on a user desktop. Applications would disappear, data and different views into the data would move to the forefront.Map data is "information" and provides new and powerful ways to visualize scenarios and make decisions.I knew at that time that Microsoft would enter the "desktop mapping" marketplace.It was only a matter of time.

The question might not be what impact MapPoint and Microsoft's activities will have on the mapping market.Instead, the question might be what impact Microsoft will have on the "mass mapping market."

Certainly, Microsoft has caused anxiety within the "trip planner" segment of the market.Clearly, DeLorme and like companies have been squeezed. Microsoft will cause anxiety within the desktop mapping segment of the market with the release of MapPoint.Any vendor that says otherwise is in denial.It is simply impossible to compete with Microsoft, and it will continue to be even if the Justice Department has its way in splitting the company up.Any potential MapInfo or ESRI customer who only needs 80% of what MapInfo or ESRI offer will likely purchase the $109 solution from Microsoft.This is the "mass market" for desktop mapping as we move forward.

It has been frustrating to witness vendors within our industry as they have seemingly sought to preserve legacy software, services, training, and support for as long as possible. There has been a clear resistance toward reducing complexity and prices to the point where their product could enter the mainstream marketplace.Is it absurd that anyone would pay over a thousand dollars for a complicated application that in may ways isn't much more sophisticated, and is perhaps less valuable to them, than Microsoft Word.

It seems somewhat ironic that Microsoft has captured the "mass market" without even having to actually ship a product, while the "players" sit on the sidelines.Why weren't complete, simple, compelling products available three years ago? Why weren't VBA enabled desktop mapping products available two years ago? There has even been a resistance to offering a product like MapPoint that is other than a "upsell" opportunity.

A lesson to be learned here is that you don't "cripple" a product or dummy it down to expand the market.You build a product specifically for the masses.Microsoft is expert at that.

The big question might not be how much room is left with Microsoft in the marketplace.The question might be what opportunities will exist, and perhaps more importantly what opportunities will be created.

Our view has been that the use of geography within everyday applications will become commonplace.Microsoft is the only company in the world that can make this happen "immediately." Our view is also that geography will become more embedded into many different types of applications.We don't have a "legacy" to protect, yet we provide a real alternative within the marketplace for both "embedding" tools, and "enabling" tools.As the acceptance of mapping as part of decision making grows, the demand for our "embedding" and "enabling" tools will grow.That is where we are and where we have been focused.

Blue Marble has been a company that offers "enabling" solutions for other vendors products for a long time.It's interesting that many of today's market players may be suddenly put into a similar role.Will the business models of the "players" allow them to grow and prosper as we move forward? How will they deal with it? What opportunities are left to them? Those may be hardest questions to answer. We view this as a tremendous opportunity for our company.

Jeff Cole
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Blue Marble Geographics
"The Geographic Software Component Company."

Published Friday, November 6th, 1998

Written by Directions Staff

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