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IBM retools for Web services

IBM is set to launch its latest offensive in the market for e-business software with more versatile development tools.

IBM is set to launch Tuesday its latest offensive in the market for e-business software with more versatile development tools.

The company will announce further details of the next releases of its application-server software and new development tools for building Web-based software and services.

IBM competes against BEA Systems, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and others in the market for e-business software that enables companies to share data and conduct trades online.

Analysts say IBM's latest WebSphere application server, which will ship late next month, will help the company compete against market leader BEA, which holds the top spot in the market for application servers.

In the $1.6 billion market in 2000, BEA captured 35 percent of the market share, followed by IBM with 30 percent, according to analyst firm Giga Information Group.

"If you look under the covers, IBM has made some astounding changes" to its application server software, said analyst Evan Quinn, of the Hurwitz Group.

The most important change, Quinn said, is that every version of IBM's WebSphere application server is now built on the same software code. Previously, each version of WebSphere, from low end to high end, was built using slightly different code, making it harder for businesses to move to higher-end versions of the server as their needs grew.

That meant growing businesses looking to upgrade to higher-end versions of IBM WebSphere were forced to conduct compatibility tests and sometimes rewrite applications to make them work, Quinn said. "This is an important step for IBM. Their customers can grow up through (IBM's) application servers much more easily."

The new WebSphere application server version 4.0 will also support additional Web standards that allow people to build Web-based software and services. IBM, along with its rivals Microsoft and others, has been racing to build and sell software for building and delivering Web services by which people access software through the Web instead of on their local PCs.

IBM had previously announced plans to support Web services throughout its e-business product family, including its DB2 database-management software. IBM's new database with support for Web services is expected to be released early next month, an IBM spokeswoman said.

Gartner analysts Massimo Pezzini, Yefim Natis, David Smith and Daryl Plummer say IBM is content to ride the coattails of Microsoft and to fill gaps pragmatically while staying out of much of the limelight.

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IBM executives said its new application server will also include improved support for a Java-based standard for writing business software. The standard, called Java 2 Enterprise Edition, is a uniform way for businesses to build business software using the Java programming language. At its core is the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) programming model, which lets developers create reusable pieces of software code.

Because of a disagreement with Sun, which created Java, IBM was one of the last software companies to support Java 2 Enterprise Edition, said Quinn. "IBM was previously at a disadvantage."

IBM executives added that the new application server offers better integration with two other programming models, Microsoft's proprietary programming model, as well as CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture).

The upshot, Quinn said, is that the improved support for different programming models makes it simpler for businesses to build Web services using IBM's e-business software.

IBM on Tuesday also announced a new version of its Visual Age for Java and WebSphere Studio software development tools, which IBM executives said will offer better support for Web services and the Java 2 Enterprise Edition.

The company will also release in July a free tool, called the WebSphere Studio WorkBench, which allows software developers to integrate IBM's development tools with other company's development tools and have one user interface on their computers for writing applications.

That way, developers can write, test, debug and model programs using one interface. IBM has partnered with other toolmakers, such as Rational Software, Merant, Versata and others, to work with the new tools.