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IBM touts open-source commitment

With Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Team System supposed to ship sometime late this year, IBM is ramping up its counteroffensive by stressing its open-source commitment.

Microsoft's new toolset, announced at its Tech-Ed 2004 conference last May, is a comprehensive lifecycle software management product that is slated to include configuration management and testing tools. It will compete with various IBM Rational offerings in the same space.

In response, IBM is stressing what it calls its open-source approach to software development, in contrast to Microsoft's traditional approach, which is to work closely with key vendors to forge alliances, share APIs, and get third-party tools to market to support its products.

A recent report from Gartner Dataquest shows Rational as the leader in application development software, with a market share of 34 percent. Microsoft follows with 17 percent, Computer Associates with 9 percent, Compuware and Mercury/Kintana with 7 percent apiece, and Borland with 5 percent.

According to Alan Brown, IBM distinguished engineer and a lead strategist for the Rational division of IBM, the companies are starting "from the same 50,000-foot level," but then diverging on their approaches. At IBM, Brown says, "we've been committed to working through open-source channels to create the right standards approach, so that we create communities that will help leverage these platforms...around open standards."

Although that approach is sometimes slower, Brown contends that it makes for a better fit with customers, many of whom may be running more than one platform.

"I think Microsoft sees things a little differently," Brown says. "They see the need to make sure that what they do is focused on their platform, to bring partners into a community that's based around their platform. While it creates a community around this platform, they're using technologies that are heavily leveraged in their platforms... For example, their Visual Studio partners platform is very much, 'come and we'll tell you how our technology works, and we'll get you on board our way of thinking.'"

According to Garter analyst Mark Driver, neither company is truly open source. "There's nothing open source about the IBM toolset," Driver says. "Clearly, IBM deserves a lot of credit for supporting open source, [but] they support it when it supports their business model."

IBM's vocal support for open source in the face of the pending shipment of VSTS, Driver says, is a savvy strategy on IBM's part, but at the end of the day, the company's primary goal is to support the business model of IBM, not open source.

"They're all still commercial tools," Driver says. "IBM deserves a lot of credit for [supporting] open source, but they're not an open-source company."

Microsoft's challenge in the struggle for market share is its heavy dependence as a company on software sales. "They're clearly, among all vendors, most negatively impacted by the loss of software revenue," Driver says. "It's core to their business model."

Neither IBM nor Microsoft benefits if open source truly takes over the market, Driver points out. "If open source reaches 100 percent penetration, IBM just as big a victim as Microsoft is."

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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