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IBM wants control of NT market

IBM launches of a new strategy and an application bundle aimed squarely at Microsoft's BackOffice.

IBM (IBM) will this summer make a bid to win control of Windows NT-based application sales with the launch of a new strategy and an application bundle aimed squarely at Microsoft's BackOffice package.

The bundle, consisting of Lotus Development's Domino groupware server, IBM's DB2 database server, and firewall and fax server software, will be targeted at small businesses. It is the first in a barrage of NT-specific software packages and services that IBM will launch in the coming months, said Jocelyne Attal, the company's newly appointed NT marketing boss.

IBM will also begin a mainstream marketing and advertising initiative later this spring intended to establish its NT application brand identity, said Attal.

Attal said the NT push reflects the operating system's growing importance to corporate users. The intense interest from IBM is something of a switch, given the company's traditional preference for applications designed to run on its own PC, Unix, and mainframe operating systems.

But with sales of Windows NT reaching 750,000 units this year, it's a market that IBM can't afford to miss, said Attal. "IBM is large enough to invest in different markets. And we don't want to be late on NT. This is where the volume market share will be," she said.

"We don?t want the same thing to happen to us on NT that happened on Unix. We were a little late there," Attal acknowledged.

That admission speaks volumes about IBM's newfound attention to market directions. This is the same company that was still hawking refrigerator-sized mainframes when client-server was deemed the future of computing. And when the Internet took the computing world by storm, IBM was there--with a reheated helping of OS/2, its star-crossed Windows competitor.

Miscues like these have over time shaped IBM's reputation as a stodgy, somewhat absent-minded behemoth, consistently out of sync with industry trends and smaller, more hip competitors.

But there are signs that the giant is waking. First came a serious effort to win control of corporate intranet servers, through the purchase of Lotus Development. Last month, IBM took an equity stake in NetObjects, considered by many as the leading maker of Web development and management tools.

Now IBM says it's putting its full marketing muscle into controlling--that's right, controlling--the Windows NT application market.

"We are not in the business of selling NT--that's Microsoft's job," said Attal. "We are doing this so we have a strategy for customers who are going to Intel platforms. If they say they are going to NT, then we have applications there."

"No one controls the NT market right now. We want to control that market," she said.

IBM's support for NT is not new. The company began porting its major database, middleware, and development tool software to Windows NT last year.

Attal claims that IBM is already far ahead of competitors, such as Oracle, in building NT applications. Along with the new small business bundle, IBM also sells various applications in its software servers lineup, formerly code-named Project Eagle.

IBM has also stationed some 200 technicians in Kirkland, Washington, just down the street from Microsoft's headquarters, to test IBM's software on NT in order to receive BackOffice certification.

Attal said the NT focus does not signal a change in strategy for the company's OS/2 operating system. "OS/2 will continue to be there. Nothing has changed," she said.

The new NT bundle is expected to debut this summer. No pricing has been set, said Attal. But she expects pricing to be equal to, or lower than Microsoft's BackOffice list price.