German company SAP, the global leader in business-enterprise software, is one of those omnipresent computer-age giants about which the public knows very little. Certainly its name, an acronym for Systems, Applications, Products in Data Processing, isn't much help. Neither are the strong-arm spin-control tactics undertaken to keep it that way by the multibillion-dollar firm. It was launched in 1972, three years before Microsoft, and now ranks second in the software industry behind that Billy-come-lately in Redmond. SAP's long-standing veil of anonymity was first nudged aside in 1997, however, with the German publication of technology reporter Gerd Meissner's Inside the Secret Software Power
. Now available in English, it offers a still-unparalleled appraisal of a company that came out of nowhere to dominate the market for behind-the-scenes software packages that manage financials, materials, and logistics for multinational companies like DuPont, Deutsche Telekom, Coca-Cola, and even Microsoft. Meissner traces SAP's development, along with the media relationships that defined much of its first three decades, to show where the company has come from and where it might be going. SAP howled in protest when the book was first released but has since taken a noticeably more proactive PR approach (which include TV commercials for its MySAP.com entry in the Internet wars). --Howard Rothman
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