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IBM to lay out Rational strategy

Big Blue's tools division is expected to detail its plans for using software from the open-source project Eclipse to make its products better integrated and to accelerate development.

Rational Software, the tools division of IBM, next week is expected to lay out a strategy for making its development products better integrated and easier to use.

At Rational's customer conference in Orlando, Fla., company executives will discuss enhancements to the division's modeling and source code management tools that will likely be added over the next two years. Rational also will provide a progress report on its incorporation within IBM. Big Blue purchased Rational last December for $2.1 billion.

In an effort to better integrate its various tools, Rational will be converting the software that underpins its products to comply with a modeling standard proposed by Eclipse, the IBM-backed open-source development tool consortium. Overhauling the underlying architecture will make it easier for developers to cooperate and will allow IBM to add features more quickly, said Mike Devlin, general manager of IBM's Rational division.

Rational is a leading seller of modeling tools that developers use to design software programs before actually writing code. The IBM unit also sells tools for testing, managing source code, and documenting application requirements.

Big Blue has bet heavily on the Eclipse open-source project, which the company started nearly two years ago with $40 million in seed money. The Eclipse software serves as a "framework," or a single graphical interface, through which developers can use multiple development tools. IBM uses Eclipse software to tie together the dozens of development tools in its portfolio.

Rational hopes to create greater demand for its tools by allowing them to more easily share information and making them more accessible to programmers and business analysts, Devlin said.

Creating greater tool integration is a crucial goal for Rational, said John Meyer, an analyst at Forrester Research. The Rational line of products currently is not as well integrated as it could be, and IBM's overall tool portfolio includes overlapping products, he said.

"For IBM to be a leader in this space and not be eclipsed by Borland (Software), it's important to pursue and deliver on what they promised at the time of the Rational acquisition, which is more tightly integrated tools and a much more robust framework for rapidly building and deploying J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) applications," said Meyer, who recently advised IBM on Rational's long-term strategy.

Just this week, systems integrator Spectrum Systems, which serves federal government agencies, announced a deal with Borland for life cycle tools. Spectrum chose Borland over Rational in part because Rational's tools were not as fully integrated as Borland's, and they required significant developer training, according to Spectrum President Ron Segal. Rational executives noted that Spectrum has not been a partner for more than three years.

Bringing support for Eclipse to the entire Rational line will take about two years to complete, although the company expects to convert a large percentage of its products by next year, Devlin said.

Rational's decision to use Eclipse will allow IBM to more tightly tie its development tools with its WebSphere application server, which runs custom-written J2EE applications, as well as with IBM's Tivoli systems management software.

Since IBM's acquisition of Rational, which was completed in February of this year, the Rational division has met its quarterly financial goals, Devlin said. Rational also has higher revenue growth projections now that it is part of IBM, he said.