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IBM has updated Websphere Portal Express to version 6.0, bringing the Express version, aimed at the small and midsize business and mid-range market, up to date with the full enterprise version and adding an Eclipse-based drag-and-drop development tool for portlets.

The upgrade, announced Jan 22. at IBM’s Lotusphere conference, alleviates one of the biggest pain points for Express users, according to Matt Smith, chief technology officer at New York-based E2 consulting, a large IBM VAR.

“Express users were two versions behind,” he said. “Portal 6.0 came out six months ago.” The lag meant that Express users could not leverage the tools that were available with the new version of Portal, such as Portal Extend and Portal Enable.

The new version also adds the portlet development tool, Lotus Components Designer, which connects to an XML data store and can be federated out to any system through Web services, according to Smith.

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Portal Express 6.0 also bundles DB2 Express, removing the requirement with previous versions for a separate repository, said Bethann Cregg, director of SMB Solutions at IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y. The change has improved implementation times.

Smith said in his experience Version 5 of the product required a three week installation. With version 6 that implementation time has been cut to less than a week.

“You are talking about $10,000 to $15,000 of consulting time that now can be spent on business functionality,” he said.

Portal Express 6.0 also provides intranet and extranet templates, a new feature that speeds up deployment of sites.

“The sites are populated already with things you would find on a company intranet site,” said Cregg. For example, there is a page for information about the board of directors. “That allows our customers to begin to immediately do the customization to make it their own.”

IBM is offering the product with two licensing plans. One provides a 20 user license for $2,300 limited to 1,000 registered users. The other plan, and one that Smith said has proven more popular with his customers initially, is the $39,999 per processor licensing plan. This plan is the one chosen most often by existing Portal Express users, he said.

However, Smith is using the 20 user pack plan to market the plan to Microsoft Sharepoint shops.

The product is scheduled to ship Jan 30.