The consolidation train sped on in January. In a direct challenge to IBM's dominance, Oracle announced its plan to pay $8.5 billion for long sought-after BEA to beef up its middleware offerings for enterprise resource planning (ERP) interfaces. On the same day, rival SAP completed its $6.8 billion takeover of business intelligence company Business Objects, first announced in October, and simultaneously introduced nine joint products including the financial performance management suite. Oracle, IBM and SAP keep upping the ante in their bids to dominate the business software market, with Hewlett-Packard also showing interest. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, called the acquisition "a big step forward" in its campaign to become the business software vendor of choice." Software buyers shouldn't be affected, says Ian Finley, research director at AMR Research Inc. Oracle will support and enhance both lines, before developing a line that fuses the best of both. "And then, it will provide an upgrade path to make migration easy," says Finley. Other consolidations could follow, analysts say. Smaller enterprise portal makers still on the field include Tibco Software and i2 Technologies

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