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IBM sharpens tools for Web services

The upcoming revamp of Big Blue's WebSphere application server software will make it easier for developers to build Web services, promises the company.

IBM will next month release a new version of its application server software intended to make building Web services easier.

The upcoming IBM WebSphere Application Server version 5 will feature advances that allow developers to build applications from multiple Java components faster, the company said on Wednesday.

Application server software--a $2 billion market--is used to run Web-based business software, which allows companies to build applications that access databases and other back-end software. In this area, IBM competes against BEA Systems, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun Microsystems.

Analysts note that the major players in the application server software market are pursuing a similar strategy in that they are bringing together an increasing number of tools to allow users to work on both development and integration. Analysts said IBM's WebSphere has an advantage over competitors because the software is tightly integrated with IBM's development tools.

In the new version of WebSphere, the company has turned its attention to improved integration with Web services. WebSphere version 5 "implements new Java Standards that enable Web services to be more tightly integrated with Java, making it a lot easier to build Web services using Java," said Mike Gilpin, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group.

IBM said version 5 will now support a precursor to a new specification that Big Blue, Microsoft and BEA announced in August, called the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services. That specification defines how to combine Web services to accomplish a particular task, according to IBM.

IBM said a company using WebSphere version 5 can take a string of transactions--such as checking the status of credit, inventory and shipping--when processing an order and can transform them into a Web services structure. That information can then be used in transactions with outside partners in a secure environment.

Within this process, if a transaction required approval from a manager, WebSphere version 5 would allow developers to build a clause in the code that would permit the application to submit the transaction for human approval before returning to the process.

IBM declined to reveal the price for version 5, but industry sources say that the price structure will be similar to that of WebSphere version 4. The earlier version sells for $8,000 for the single-server version of WebSphere, and $12,000 for the multiserver version.