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IBM to bring Eclipse tools to desktop applications

Development tools based on open-source project to fill out IBM's Lotus Workplace desktop software.

IBM on Monday detailed a line of programming tools meant to create a market of customized add-ons for its Lotus Workplace desktop applications.

The company said its Rational development tools division is working on programming tools for building applications to run in conjunction with Lotus Workplace, IBM's alternative to Microsoft's Office desktop software. Slated for release later this month, Workplace is a set of simplified productivity applications, such as word processing and e-mail, that can run on multiple operating systems, including Linux. Microsoft's Office only runs on Windows and Mac OS.

With the new development tools, IBM wants to enlist independent software vendors and corporate developers to write add-ons to its Lotus Workplace software, IBM executives said Monday. A health care software provider could, for example, customize the Lotus Workplace applications for doctors that use a handheld computer. IBM detailed the Workplace tools at the Rational user conference, which is being held in Grapevine, Texas, this week.

The tools will be built using the Eclipse open-source programming application. Basing the products on Eclipse means that developers can install add-ons, or "plug-ins," designed for building Workplace applications.

IBM's Rational division has made a significant investment in the Eclipse open-source software. The company's long-term direction is to rewrite its existing line of application life cycle tools to work as plug-ins to Eclipse.

Using a single programming application for its tools suite lets IBM introduce products faster and improves interoperability between different tools, said Mike Devlin, general manager of IBM Rational. "(Eclipse) allows us to bring out new capabilities very quickly," Devlin said.

IBM is designing a range of tools aimed at professional Java developers as well as nonprofessional programmers. For example, Workplace builder, which will ship as part of Lotus Workplace version 2.0 in the third quarter, is designed for people comfortable with assembling applications from templates and prewritten software components. In the same quarter, IBM will also release Workplace API Toolkit, aimed at programmers and independent software vendors who use IBM's WebSphere Studio Java programming kit.

At the end of the year, the company intends to release a beta version of Workplace Designer, a third tool meant to simplify the process of building applications that have close technical integration with the Lotus Workplace applications.