Bacterial transformation, a programmed mechanism for genetic exchange originally discovered in Streptococcus pneumoniae, is widespread in bacteria. It is based on the uptake and integration of exogenous DNA into the recipient genome. This review examines whether induction of competence for genetic transformation is a general response to stress in gram-positive bacteria. It compares data obtained with bacteria chosen for their different lifestyles, the soil-dweller Bacillus subtilis and the major human pathogen S. pneumoniae. The review focuses on the relationship between competence and other global responses in B. subtilis, as well as on recent evidence for competence induction in response to DNA damage or antibiotics and for the ability of S. pneumoniae to use competence as a substitute for SOS. This comparison reveals that the two species use different fitness-enhancing strategies in response to stress conditions. Whereas B. subtilis combines competence and SOS induction, S. pneumoniae relies only on competence to generate genetic diversity through transformation.