Editorial Microsoft off-target in E&P computing push? (November 1997)

PDM’s editor Neil McNaughton outlines his personal IT background as one-time UNIX aficionado turned Visual Basic enthusiast. As a reformed zealot, McNaughton wonders whether Microsoft’s current push for all-NT is really what the industry needs.

As an ex-UNIX control freak turned low cholesterol Visual Basic programmer I must admit that Microsoft’s sudden interest in E&P computing is welcome news. Maybe I’ll get to be a VB control freak before too long! You probably have experienced this sort of mindset at some time or another. My control freaking began when we acquired a UNIX box and I misspent part of my youth and employer's time in learning arcane commands and tools for doing all sorts of things some of them quite useful. No harm in that you might say, the harm begins when you start to protect your investment in your newly acquired skills by evangelizing about the merits and power of your chosen operating system. Especially when you begin to sell it in areas where it may not be appropriate.


Such evangelizing can turn into religious warfare rather quickly and lead to the sort of futile operating system wars that have taken place - between DEC and IBM, IBM and UNIX and today between UNIX - or rather mainly SUN and Microsoft. OS wars are for the vendors, if you find yourself proselytizing about one OS at the expense of another you are acting as an unpaid publicist for a computer company. They are particularly pernicious when they extend to selling an OS to an inappropriate market.

inappropriate marketing

Microsoft's new energy focused group appears to be operating in line with Microsoft’s general corporate strategy which could be summarized as "we already have the desktop, now lets kill the Sun servers". But this is inappropriate marketing at least to the scientific computing E&P community - where the stability, memory model and IEEE conformity of UNIX hold sway. In a similar manner, the trendy image that Sun is trying to give to Java is inappropriate in that it instills fear uncertainty and doubt into the naive members of the desktop community, while offering thinly spread jam tomorrow in return.

Microsoft's marketing pitch is thus off-target in the very field where they have the most to offer. In the high tech world of E&P, the most under-utilized tool around is probably the PC on your desk. People are the main cost in an information system; and what really counts (to an oil company) is the end user’s tools for accessing data, performance, ease of use, consistency and sophistication. In this issue of PDM we see how Windows based tools have served to build quick and not so dirty solutions to problems such as how to archive and distribute a very large unstructured dataset in the context of a bidding round. New products utilizing GIS access from Windows to large corporate datastores are appearing almost weekly. Even the flagship company quoted by MS in the press release, OSI Software, is focused on the desktop, they supply an application which provides a bi-directional link between processes such as oil refining and SAP’s R/3 applications using tools such as ODBC and Visual Basic. But while such software vendors are quietly aware of the potential of these tools, the same is not generally true of the G&G end user.

data miners

Unlike the financial services industry where workflow is pre-determined, E&P-ers are by nature data miners, and hopefully, push-oriented publishers of their findings. In my wanderings through E&P shops world-wide I consider the full exploitation of an Office/Web paradigm to be one of the least understood elements of E&P computing. Access to the various data stores in a corporation requires interoperability. But this is here now, with the kind of tools that Microsoft supplies to its developers, augmented by a vast array of third party offerings from Borland, Oracle, DevSoft and the like. Much of the effort centered on "true" platform independent interoperability - through Java or CORBA stems from an understandable, but rather unrealistic desire to free the IT world of Microsoft's hegemony. In a practical sense, if the world does take this path, then the overall cost to industry at large in terms of lost time, functionality and re-training will be huge. It would be good to see Microsoft new energy unit offering more support in E&P for its information work offerings, for the pervasive utility of the Office product line, and for the functionality of its development tools. This would put the claims of the Java camp into context and would be a more telling sales pitch than the price of a MIPS.

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