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Can IBM 'Expedite' SOAs at Microsoft's Expense?

IBM has upgraded and rechristened a key piece of collaboration software from its Lotus unit, enabling it to facilitate Web 2.0 technologies such as enterprise mashups, something that IBM says Microsoft cannot yet do.

Formerly known as WebSphere Everyplace Deployment, Lotus Expeditor is a development platform that lets IT managers run corporate applications such Lotus Sametime 7.5, Lotus Notes and Websphere Portal 6.0 across desktops, laptops and handheld computers.

But unlike Everyplace Deployment, Expeditor can facilitate enterprise mashups, such as the fusion of multiple customer applications into one, said IBM spokesperson Elena Fernandez.

Gartner analysts say mashup collaboration, in which two or more applications are spliced together to improve an application's usefulness, is the next frontier of applications in the business world.

Though mashups started with consumers, they are quickly paving the way for greater efficiencies, and are part of the Web 2.0 makeover software makers are trying to bring to reality.

With the Web 2.0 spin, IBM is positioning Lotus Expeditor, based on code from open source development groups such as Eclipse, as an alternative to Microsoft's .NET-based collaboration software.

To that end, IBM partner Mainsoft will help IBM clients migrate from Microsoft's Visual Basic programming environment to J2EE-based Expeditor.

Such an offer could be appealing in the wake of Microsoft's  termination of Visual Basic support. Fernandez said Visual Basic developers are being "abandoned" by Microsoft.

(Microsoft, which was not immediately available for comment, has been urging programmers to upgrade from Visual Basic 6 to VB.NET and its Visual Studio development platform, while transitioning support to critical fixes.)

IBM believes this opens the door to lure more users to its software and points to the steady competition between IBM's Lotus unit and Microsoft's own collaboration software, which includes SharePoint and Exchange.

"By using Web services [through Expeditor], you can call applications that have been built in Visual Basic or .NET, so you're not forced to tell users they can't use what they already created; you can now reuse those components as part of creating this universal client," Fernandez said.

As a complement to Expeditor, IBM will release Lotus Mobile Connect, a piece of software that adds secure network roaming for Expeditor-based applications running on mobile and wireless devices.

With Mobile Connect, users can tap into IBM Workplace Forms and WebSphere Portal via laptops, tablets or desktops, and other applications.

The combination of any device management and Web 2.0 features is something Microsoft cannot do to this point, Fernandez claimed.

Both companies are fond of instituting migration programs to woo customers from one side to the other in the multi-billion-dollar collaboration software market. Last January, Microsoft triggered a program to bring Lotus users to Exchange.

Reusing applications the way Expeditor does also goes to the heart of IBM's service-oriented architecture (SOA) software strategy for helping customers save money by repeatedly using software code and services as part of a move to distributed computing systems.

The company is investing heavily in this arena, integrating software from acquired companies across its five software brands.

IBM Global Services is just as involved, today opening SOA centers to facilitate development all over the world.