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IBM fuels 'freeware' efforts

Big Blue will bolster the free source code movement on the Net in bundling and supporting the Apache Web server.

IBM will bolster the movement to provide source code over the Net next week when it announces a deal to bundle and support Apache's freely distributed Web server.

Big Blue is attempting to create a groundswell of support for its Web-based application development offerings, which includes widespread Java support as well as a new line of Web application server software scheduled to ship this month, as previously reported.

In the aftermath of Netscape Communications' move to distribute its browser source code, IBM's decision to support Apache software is likely to boost the credibility of "freeware" among skeptics.

"I think what we'll do over time is legitimize this particular offering for enterprise usage," said Paraic Sweeney, vice president of Web server marketing for IBM. "It's not about a particular style, but about a specific product."

IBM will bundle the Apache software as part of its WebSphere application server offering, which includes a variety of Web-based development tools that cater to delivering electronic commerce applications. Application server software is used to link client applications with data and applications on host systems. Apache's role will be to communicate with desktop users accessing Web-based commerce sites. The offering will also include connections to database software.

Though large corporations have been less willing to adopt a piece of Net-disseminated software, Apache retains a substantial lead in Web server installations, holding nearly 50 percent market share against offerings from Microsoft and Netscape, according to a Netcraft survey.

Yet the deal could be viewed as a blow to Netscape's server-side software efforts--a key revenue driver for the struggling firm--as well as Microsoft's attempts to position its Windows NT operating system as a Web-optimized software package. Microsoft includes its Internet Information Server (IIS) for free and offers a Site Server Web site development and management system as an add-on.

The software giant also has launched a Web-based application development effort called COM+, culling tools from a variety of disparate products. That effort is in direct conflict with various Java-based server-side efforts under way at firms like IBM.

Analysts noted that traditional front-end Web servers have become a commodity, with the real money coming from second-generation back-end Web software infrastructure.

"The contest is really at the application server level," said Martin Marshall, an industry analyst with Zona Research. "The price for the Web connection server has been established by Microsoft--it's zero. What you pay for is these more advanced servers. What you're seeing is IBM coming in and filling this second-generation gap."

The WebSphere offering is a Java-based plug-in and will run on competing Web servers, such as those offered by Netscape and Microsoft. Given WebSphere's June 30 ship date, the initial release will likely not immediately include the Apache Web server, but the software will be delivered soon after, IBM said. The company will offer Apache as well as the Domino Go Web server from its own Lotus Development subsidiary.

Sweeney said that IBM developers would contribute to the development of Apache Web server software going forward.

Included in the bundle are a variety of Web-based development tools from IBM itself and NetObjects, a start-up that is more than 50 percent owned by Big Blue, as well as Java Server Page technology codeveloped by IBM and Java steward Sun Microsystems.

IBM also announced a performance pack for WebSphere this week, formerly code-named Nagano, that will make it applicable for high-end corporate usage.