Sunset, Dead Horse, Magic and Usability

Management summary: The Sun is setting. Some of its fortune can hopefully be saved, some of it will be probably lost. Attempt to replace practical mess with unusable dead horse seems to be futile. But shamans still favors it.

Technological company Sun Microsystems is being swallowed by Oracle Acquisitions. Sun had many interesting products in the portfolio. Being a technological company, Sun has failed to capitalize most of them. I've heard that Sun will never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. That describes the Sun's business strategy quite well. Nevertheless, Sun had some relatively good technologies. Software technologies. Even some successful products. Now it seems to be quite clear that most of them will be killed under Oracle Acquisitions rule. One company is bold enough to try to save some of the Sun's portfolio. Fortunately Sun has made some of its products open source, so there is some chance they can be saved. This can be an interesting precedent. Can open source strategy give customers better continuity than over-priced commercial support agreements? I wonder ...

Our company was a Sun partner and most of our team worked with Sun technologies since the dawn of the Internet in our post-communist country. Last 6 years we have specialized in identity management. Sun Identity Manager (aka Waveset Lighthouse) was quite a successful product. It has surprisingly high market share. However it was quite a mess. It was really wild mix of ingenious ideas, bad decisions, layers of duct tape and engineering dead ends. But it was understandable, extremely flexible and has the right set of development tools. And it worked. Mostly. The decision of Oracle Acquisitions to kill Sun's products was quite a hit. It hit us as badly as it hit our customers. Oracle is proposing its own product as an alternative. But IDM solutions are usually heavily customized. Anyone claiming that migration to a competitive technology will be easy is speaking from ignorance at the very least. The migration means reimplementation. All the effort and all the costs "invested" again. Our customers were left in the void by the decision of Oracle, therefore we were "motivated" to look around for alternative solutions.

The natural choice was Oracle Identity Manager (OIM), the thing that Oracle acquired with Thor few years ago. However, the product is unusable. That's how it is, plain and simple. The product itself may not be bad, but it is extremely difficult to customize and use. In fact it may be easier to implement IDM solution from the ground up than to customize OIM. My personal estimation is that IDM project with OIM will require at least three times more effort than similar projects with Sun IDM. OIM has really minimalistic tools, terrible debugging and diagnostics mechanisms, no build system, minimum deployment support infrastructure. Engineering nightmare. As I was staring at the monitor in disbelief and trying hard to figure out how that Thor beast works, an old Dakota tribe saying came to my mind: When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Therefore I've dismounted.

Now I can understand why OIM has almost no deployments in our region. However, I do not understand why analysts put OIM in their magic quadrants. OIM surely provides lots of cool features in the marketing slideware presentations. But once it gets to real installations, it takes so much effort to implement simple things that the effort to implement something moderately complex will be counted in man-decades, if not man-centuries. Is that the "ability to execute"? A friend speculated that analysts never install. And after the experience with OIM I'm quite inclined to believe that. One way or another, my confidence in the analyst's product assessments suffered considerably.

The experience with OIM, however bad it was, provided a valuable lesson: usability, usability, usability. The product may be based on unique ideas, innovative technology, it may be a work of real genius - however all of that is vain if the product cannot be understood and efficiently used.