IBM ponders WebSphere open-source plan

As part of its crusade to marginalise operating systems such as Windows, IBM is leaning toward giving the Standard Edition of its WebSphere application server to the open-source community.

As an extension to the Apache Web server technology, IBM hopes WebSphere will be one of the final pieces it needs to make sure all OS-level middleware services are available as open-source technologies.

"Once we get the WebSphere run-time engine embedded in a wide variety of applications, this is the next logical step," said Valerie Olague, Somers, director of product marketing for business transformation at IBM.

For IBM, the key issue driving this move is to prevent Microsoft, Sun, or any other vendor from using a core technology to dominate the industry. This point was reinforced in the most recent edition of the IBM annual report, in which company CEO and chairman Lou Gerstner said that eliminating technology choke points is a key goal for the company.

IBM officials contend that their approach to enabling technologies is in sharp contrast to those of Microsoft and Sun, both of which are leveraging their respective investments in Windows and Java to limit choice.

"I think [IBM's] move is acknowledging [the] reality . . . that more and more people are not building [applications] to specific operating system environments. Whenever possible, they are building to a higher level than the OS," said Dan Kusnetzky, senior analyst at IDC.

In general, IBM officials said that efforts such as Microsoft.NET and Sun's iPlanet are little more than attempts to extend open technologies using proprietary technology.

"The problem is that even if what they offer is 90 per cent healthy and only 10 per cent rat poison, the rat poison is still going to kill you," said Scott Hebner, director of e-business marketing at the IBM Software Group.

What's on offer in WebSphere Standard EditionWebSphere SE's feature set could prove a boon to open-source developers.

* Enhanced Java, leveraging Java 2 Software Development Kit V1.2.2* Support for JSPs (JavaServer Pages)* XML-compliant DTD (Document Type Definition) for JSPs* Support for the Java servlet 2.1* High-speed pooled database access* XML server tools* 7XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language) support* IBM HTTP server* Tivoli Ready Modules* Machine translation for dynamic language translation of Web page content* Integration with IBM VisualAge for Java

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