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New IBM tools circle e-business market

Big Blue is set to introduce new WebSphere Studio development tools, the first of many releases in the coming months aimed at attracting new business-software customers.

IBM on Tuesday will introduce new development tools, the first of many releases in the coming months as the company looks to attract new business-software customers.

IBM is expected to release the newest versions of WebSphere Studio, a Java software programming tool for building Web services, an emerging way to build software by allowing businesses to interact via the Web. The new tool, called WebSphere Studio version 5, adds support for two older languages--COBOL and PL/1--allowing companies to connect their mainframe applications to the Web.

In the next six to nine months, the company will refresh the rest of IBM's WebSphere e-business software, said John Swainson, general manager of IBM's application and integration middleware division.

Later this year, IBM will ship version 5 of its application server software, which is used to run e-commerce and other Web site transactions. Also due is a new version of its portal software, for building portal Web sites for employees, customers and business partners; and new integration software, which allows companies to link dissimilar business software to share information.

The computing giant also hopes to extend beyond the ranks of its large corporate customers by wooing midsized businesses with new WebSphere offerings targeted at that market, Swainson said.

"The small and medium-sized market is as big as the enterprise market," he said. "When you look at the market opportunity, say 100,000 enterprises with between 500 to 2,000 employees who are looking for solutions, they need simpler solutions than the larger enterprises. We will have the appropriate set of product that are relevant to them."

IBM, which outlined its product plans this May, competes against Microsoft, BEA Systems, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and others. In the billion-dollar market for Java-based application servers, for example, IBM is closing in on leader BEA for the market-share lead.

Like many large software companies, IBM sells low-cost programming tools at minimal profit in the hope that businesses will build software that runs on their more expensive--and profitable--products, such as application-server or database-management software.

The new WebSphere Studio tool supports the latest standards for Java and Web services, as well as the second version of Eclipse, a project backed by IBM to create open-source development tools.

The Eclipse project creates a common structure, or software framework, that connects programming, debugging and testing tools from multiple companies. It allows software developers to choose development tools from different software makers and plug them together, making them easier to learn and use.

IBM is shipping two different versions of WebSphere Studio: the lower-end Application Developer version, available now, costs $3,499. The higher-end Enterprise Developer version is available next week for $7,300.

Illuminata analyst James Governor said IBM's new tools are solid, although not yet as easy to use as Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net tools.

Governor added that IBM's support for various languages, such as COBOL, is "a good move. This takes the (Eclipse) framework" beyond Java, he said.