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IBM cranks up client software push

Big Blue fills out its Workplace initiative with bundles tailored for midsize businesses and for specific industries.

IBM stepped up its assault on the desktop software market with the introduction of new bundles of its Workplace software that are designed for medium-size businesses and for specific industries.

IBM's Workplace initiative is the company's plan to garner a larger share of the money spent by businesses on end-user productivity software--a market dominated by Microsoft's Office suite.

The Workplace software, which is being developed through IBM's Lotus division, is built around the company's Java-based WebSphere Portal software, which delivers applications and documents from servers to desktop PCs or handheld devices running Windows or Linux. The Workplace software can present information in a Web browser or so-called rich-client software, which has full graphical capabilities and can be used offline.

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On Tuesday, IBM said its Workplace Services Express offering, a package designed for quick installation at smaller organizations, will be available at the end of the month. The offering will include WebSphere Portal, along with collaboration applications such as instant messaging and Web-based document sharing. Customers will be charged according to the number of servers or end users they have. Specific pricing will be announced later.

Also, at the end of the month, IBM will release 17 bundles of its Workplace software that address specific job functions, or "roles," within about 12 industries. The packages will include a number of portal applications, called portlets, as well as page layouts and prototype applications for different industries, company executives said.

In addition, signaling its future Workplace plans, IBM on Tuesday added two hosted services offerings that let companies "rent" software and pay IBM based on usage. The company will offer Web-conferencing software through its hosted software operation, as well as Web content management software for smaller organizations.

Ambuj Goyal, general manager of IBM's Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Software group, called the first hosted software services a "stepping stone" to the point when all of the company's Workplace applications will be offered on a hosted basis.

Goyal said IBM's Workplace is the company's attempt to fix some of the problems associated with desktop applications. He said Workplace cuts down on costs both because corporations can update desktop software from a server and because the tools are based on Java and other industry standards, which prevents customers' being locked in with a single vendor.

The industry-specific packages are intended to speed up the time customers need to install IBM's portal and client software, said Pam Stanford, director of IBM Workplace Solutions. For example, in one bundle, IBM has created a series of portlets and page layouts, along with implementation advice, to perform tasks usually done by financial controllers.

The industry-specific packages, which IBM intends to expand, dovetail with the company's larger strategy of creating customized versions of its software and selling products along industry lines.

IBM executives said that over the next year, IBM will build more commonality between the Java and portal standards-based Workplace software and IBM's Lotus line of e-mail and collaboration tools.

Next year, for example, IBM will rewrite the Lotus client software to run on the Workplace client software and offer customers an option of running a mail server that is based on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) server standard, said Ken Bisconti, the company's vice president of Workplace, portals and collaborative products.