I've been doing some research and experiment with Microsoft software such as SQL Server 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Exchange 2010. Now I have to write a report on what I've done.

I need a proper name to refer to such software as a whole. The first one coming to my mind is production tools. I decide to use this one if no one could come up with a better one for me.

  • 20
    Do not tempt me!
    – JeffSahol
    Dec 15, 2011 at 21:10
  • 2
    Shouldn't you refer to Microsoft for how they would like you to name their stuff?
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2011 at 21:26
  • @Mitch I assumed I could get a quicker answer here. Plus, I really love this site :)
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 21:35
  • 1
    @JeffSahol How?
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 21:36
  • 4
    'Cause you've worn out all the improper ones?
    – user597
    Dec 15, 2011 at 23:39

6 Answers 6


Here I would propose enterprise software. As a marketing buzzword (buzzphrase?) it admittedly has become rather inexact. Nevertheless, it encapsulates what the three examples have in common, aside from their manufacturer: they are "heavy-duty" software products that the typical end user does not interact with directly; they are useful (or cost-effective) only at the enterprise level (i.e. for a large or complex organization). An end user would almost never see screens for managing Exchange, for example. He or she would likely interact with Outlook, and Outlook communicates with and through Exchange. He or she would almost never write or extract data directly from SQL Server, but use another application or website to do so.

Business solutions software is somewhat orthogonal to "enterprise software," since business software would include software aimed at businesses which are too small or simple to require products as heavy as SharePoint or Exchange, and strictly speaking a product like SQL server might be used for production as opposed to business purposes.

I would not use the term productivity software here as it is the least precise. To some extent, all software that is not specifically intended for entertainment (i.e. to kill time) would contribute to productivity (i.e. to save time), including the packages mentioned, but the term is applied to applications used commonly by a variety of workers in a variety of industries to enhance their day-to-day productivity. These would include general office software (e.g. word processors, contact managers) and role- or industry-specific software (e.g. accounting, process management). My smartphone app store has a "productivity" category but it certainly wouldn't be the place to buy SQL Server.

Middleware refers specifically to software that manages interaction between systems. Neither SharePoint nor SQL Server are middleware.

  • 2
    By the way what does "orthogonal" mean in your context? Mutually exclusive? Independently of each other? Non-overlapping?
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 21:20
  • 2
    Sorry, I meant that the definition lies across a different, independent axis. That is, in my opinion, comparing "business solutions" and "enterprise software" is like comparing apples and oranges.
    – choster
    Dec 15, 2011 at 21:28
  • The industry acronym is COTS - commercial off the shelf, as opposed to applications written specifically for the task/client
    – mgb
    Dec 15, 2011 at 22:59
  • +1 As a software developer, Enterprise Software is the closest phrase I would use for describing the mentioned Microsoft products.
    – user8201
    Dec 16, 2011 at 3:11
  • +1 for this answer. @MartinBeckett: COTS is a larger category. Microsoft Office and Photoshop are COTS, but are not Enterprise Software.
    – LarsH
    Dec 16, 2011 at 3:49

They should be considered as Business Solutions Software, as is evident from the Microsoft website categorization.

  • So far, your answer seems to make the most sense to me.
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:00
  • I think it works well in your context for a general audience.
    – Wudang
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:21

Microsoft calls them productivity tools. So do others in my experience. (If this were just a Microsoft question I would call it off-topic, but you seem to be asking more generally.)

(See Google results for "productivity tools microsoft.com".)

  • Well, I have to admit Microsoft Visual Studio and Microsoft Office Suite are truly productivity tools. But I doubt the term would apply here.
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:45
  • Isn't Exchange part of Office Suite? That's what made me think in this direction. Dec 15, 2011 at 19:51
  • 1
    Exchange is server software, OutLook is part of office. Dec 15, 2011 at 19:53

The preferred term for discussing this kind of software tends to change every few years due to marketing pressures. Even though the core functions a business needs remain pretty static, the marketing wonks need a way to make the new versions seem new and exciting compared to the old ones that did pretty much the same thing.

So over the past couple of decades, "back office software", "enterprise software", "business solutions software", and "information systems software" have all had their heyday. And they all remain terms that would be readily recognized by someone familiar with the industry.

I'd tip my hat to either "enterprise software" or the aforementioned by Incognito "business solutions software" as the ones with the most "modern" connotation right now.


Such software is commonly known as a service.

  • SQL Server 2010 is a database service
  • SharePoint 2010 is a SharePoint service
  • Exchange 2010 is an Exchange service or an email service

They are characterised by how they tend to run in the background and are on a central server, not on an individual's computer - although I think SharePoint is the name for the client software as well as the service.

  • "service" is an overloaded term on windows. Lots of thiangs run as services that do not offer services in the way these products do.
    – Wudang
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:20
  • 1
    "Software" and "service" are far from synonymous. A "service" is a function or set of functions that need to be performed. "Software" is the practical implementation of one or more services. Even when using the technical connotation of "service" - a constantly-running app providing functionality to other client software - it is not accurate to call any of these products a service. SQL Server, for example, is actually a collection of multiple service daemons (e.g. SQL Server, SQL Server Agent, Distributed Transaction Coordinator) and multiple client tools (e.g. Management Studio). Dec 15, 2011 at 21:43
  • Exchange Server and Outlook are a lot more than 'email services'. I'd call them 'groupware'.
    – Alan B
    Dec 16, 2011 at 9:28

Middleware is the term I'd use.

  • I just read the wikipedia entry. Application servers could be called middleware, but when we mention middleware in the first place, would my audience immediately understand we are talking about application servers? I guess they would think of something else.
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:42
  • Not "servers", "services".
    – Wudang
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:45
  • My point is when we mention the term middleware, would those pieces of Microsoft software come to your mind?
    – Terry Li
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:48
  • Yes, we use the term for all DB software, MQ, IBM WAS, CICS, etc as well as SQL server and share point. I assume Exchange 2010 is the server rather than the client?
    – Wudang
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:51
  • These are not middleware softwares.
    – Incognito
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:51

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