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IBM to offer non-Blue versions of management apps

The company's Personal Computing division is expected to begin offering some Big Blue ThinkVantage management utilities to a broader audience starting next month.

IBM's Personal Computing division is expected to begin offering some of Big Blue's ThinkVantage Technologies computer management utilities to a broader audience next month.

Big Blue will begin offering two of the utilities--its IBM Rescue and Recovery with Rapid Restore and IBM System Migration Assistant--for use on non-IBM PCs in early April. Previously, the tools were only available for IBM ThinkCentre desktops and ThinkPad notebooks, even though some customers requested versions that would work with other brands of PCs as well.

"It's a big step for us," said Lee Highsmith, worldwide program manager for support and uptime solutions at IBM's Personal Computing division.

Indeed, issues such as ease of management and the cost of owning a PC over its lifetime are of huge importance for companies that maintain large numbers of computers. IBM began offering its ThinkVantage utilities in an effort to lighten the load of companies' information technology departments and thus save them money by simplifying or automating certain PC management tasks. The utilities are designed to help restore a system's software, after it crashes, for example.

For IBM, which has recently renewed its emphasis on PC sales, ThinkVantage products became a marketing tool. In its competition with Dell and Hewlett-Packard, Big Blue pointed to the fact that it bundles the full suite of ThinkVantage utilities on most of its PCs at no extra charge. Big Blue's sales pitch often states that although its computers might not always be cheaper to buy, they can be cheaper to own or easier to operate than those from other companies. Some customers wanted the utilities to work with more than just IBM desktops, however.

"There are very few customers who are in an IBM-only environment. What's important for them is to be able to use a product that's consistent over their enterprise," Highsmith said.

"It's a good tool set," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif. But "one of the problems up until now has been that it only worked on IBM (PCs). Businesses don't like to use a system like that, because they feel it locks them in" to one supplier.

Still, even with ThinkVantage on its side, IBM faces a difficult market, where Dell and HP each ship more units. Data from IDC shows that Dell shipped about 25.8 million units worldwide in 2003, and HP was close behind, with about 25 million. IBM was a distant third, with about 9 million units.

Dell and HP also both offer management software from Altiris. Similar software from Miramar Systems is popular as well, Enderle said.

For its part, IBM's Rescue and Recovery includes features that help a PC recover after a crash. It maintains an up-to-date copy of the PC's software and data in a special hard drive partition. Software can thus be restored in about 15 minutes after a crash. It can also help recover accidentally deleted files.

Meanwhile, System Migration Assistant transfers a person's data and settings from one PC to another, saving set-up time. It can use a company's network or transfer the data and settings via a cable or an external hard drive.

IBM will sell the two software tools via its Web site. Rescue and Recovery will start at $59, and the System Migration Assistant will start at $39, the company said.

Over time, the company is likely to offer up other ThinkVantage tools for non-IBM systems as well, Highsmith said.