Staff Writer, CNET News.com
IBM, looking to outdo rival Microsoft, plans to ship a new bundle of development tools that can simplify how software gets built.
The company announced Wednesday that the next version of its Rational Software Platform, formerly code-named Atlantic, will ship by the end of the year.
With the suite, IBM intends to deliver a unified set of tools that addresses different phases of the application development process, from the initial requirement gathering to design, construction, testing and deployment.
The release is also expected to raise the stakes in an ongoing contest among IBM, Microsoft and others to win over customers through software development tools. Typically, software companies make little profit on development tools, but they can lead to related sales of more lucrative server software needed to run custom-built business applications.
IBM acquired Rational in December 2002 and has worked to integrate the company's various tools, which are used for modeling, testing and other aspects of development. IBM said it used the Eclipse open source software to knit together the various tools.
"This is one of the single biggest releases of technology that the Rational team has ever done," said Steve Mills, senior vice president in charge of IBM's software group.
Following IBM's acquisition of Rational, Microsoft began its own project to create a suite of tools that addresses different phases in the application development process. The company plans to release Visual Studio Team System next year, which will feature new modeling tools.
A smaller rival, Borland Software, is also pursuing a tools suite strategy. Over the past year or so, Borland has purchased a number of companies and combined tools to create an application development bundle that works with both Microsoft's .Net development software and the Java model, which is favored by IBM.
The all-in-one plan
The move to offer all-in-one tool bundles reflects larger providers' efforts to squeeze out smaller competitors, said Mark Driver, an analyst at research company Gartner. Buyers get a more cohesive and comprehensive set of products from one vendor, which tends to "box out" smaller providers, he said.
In the process, Microsoft and IBM are linking their tools more closely to their more profitable server software, Driver said. "Microsoft, like IBM, believes they can't depend on partners (for tools suites) and think it's much more important to own them directly," he said.
IBM has built the Atlantic tools on Eclipse 3.0, open source software, which allows programmers to unify different tools through a common user interface and mechanism for sharing information.
"Instead of appearing like a large number of tools that were connected together, it's almost as if it's a single tool with different perspectives or aspects," said Mike Devlin, the general manager of IBM's Rational tools division.
Driver said better tool integration is becoming increasingly important to corporate customers. Businesses are taking on more complex applications, which require more capable tools. Also, some companies are now more likely to design new applications in-house, and then outsource the actual coding offshore, which requires a well organized toolset to coordinate the hand-off, he said.
Looking ahead, IBM plans to introduce greater use of "patterns," or prewritten application designs and code, which will help business customers create applications more quickly, said Mills. For example, IBM could develop prewritten software for business collaboration applications or business-to-business processes.
"The retrieval and incorporation of pattern information into modeling tools is one of the big areas of investment. We see a lot of potential breakthroughs of repeatable processes," said Mills.
Driver expects IBM to also boost its investments to make Java development simpler. Microsoft's .Net line of tools has long been known for ease of use, something that Java providers have tried to replicate.