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Enterprise Portal Software Gets Competitive

For the seventh straight year, IBM is the worldwide market leader in the enterprise portal software market, according to figures recently released by Gartner.

Its WebSphere Portal had sales of $351.9 million, or about 33.4 percent of the overall market which totaled $1.1 billion in 2007.

However, Oracle's acquisition of BEA Systems for $8.5 billion in April makes that vendor a close second to Big Blue. Together, Gartner said Oracle (QUOTE: ORCL) and BEA had a total of 32.4 percent of the worldwide enterprise portal software market in 2007.

Another key player, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), with its SharePoint Portal Server, had 19.7 percent of the global portal software market in 2007. Its presence in the enterprise market is not so much of a threat though because it "sells into the enterprise through business departments, whereas IBM, Oracle and BEA sell into the back end," Gartner managing vice president Joanne Correia told InternetNews.com.

IBM's success is due to its good sales channels and its having "a lot of ISVs who embed WebSphere into their products," Correia said. Also, although Microsoft has good channels too, "IBM has been selling portal software longer -- Microsoft SharePoint Server didn't come out until 2002," she added.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) attributes its market leadership to the inclusion of easy-to-use Web 2.0 technologies such as mash-ups, composite applications and live text in its portals.

Enhanced Web 2.0 support in WebSphere Portal includes richer, desktop-like application interfaces based on AJAX , built-in AJAX support for core WebSphere Portal features; and composite application templates to let business users build applications.

Jenna Dobkin, senior director of marketing at IBM business partner Mainsoft., told InternetNews.com that one of WebSphere Portal's advantages is that it "provides true business enterprise mash-ups."

"Our customers tell us it's a very good platform when it comes to customer-facing Web sites and implementations," she added.

Another advantage WebSphere Portal brings to the table is that it lets Java and .NET applications work together. Other portal platforms also let users create enterprise mash-ups , but "most of them will limit you to either the Java or the .NET world, but WebSphere lets you integrate your assets across both," Dobkin said.

Mainsoft takes Java and .NET integration to a new level, letting WebSphere portal fully leverage the .NET code, IBM WebSphere Portal product manager Jason Andersen told InternetNews.com.

"We love that because, when a customer wants to do a major portal project, the last thing they want to hear is that they have to change the developer toolset to something they're not familiar with," he added.

For example, developers at disease management firm Healthways (NASDAQ: HWAY), who work in Visual Studio, built and deployed a major portal on WebSphere Portal in weeks, without having to switch to Java tools for the project, Dobkin said.

Nonetheless, IBM will have to hustle in order to maintain its lead, in the wake of Oracle's BEA acquisition.

Ramping up WebSphere Portal

Already, it has ramped up work on WebSphere Portal, by delivering accelerators on top of the portal infrastructure and adding new features to the portal. Accelerators are value added components such as social networking, distance learning and dashboards.

"We amped up usability, the overall management capabilities, and changed the user interface so it's a robust Web 2.0 UI [user interface] with drag and drop capabilities on the page and a very high-performance experience," Andersen explained.

IBM said it plans to keep up the pace, releasing updates to the accelerators and the portal regularly.

Version 6.1 of IBM WebSphere Portal will be unveiled at the end of the month, Andersen said.