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BOSTON—Microsoft has set its sights on IBM Rational, and the software giant is hoping its partners can help it overcome the market leader in the application lifecycle management tools space.

Ian Knox, Microsoft’s group product manager of Visual Studio Team System, told eWEEK that Microsoft’s primary message to partners is to focus on IBM’s Rational division and its raft of ALM tools.

In a meeting at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference here on July 11, Knox said Microsoft levels three main areas of attack against IBM’s position in the market: to challenge the perception that IBM is the right choice, to do detailed analyses of the business value of Microsoft’s team tools versus IBM Rational’s, and to do proof-of-concept demonstrations for customers.

The Eclipse Foundation is moving into the application lifecycle management space. Click here to read more.

This strategy has paid off for Microsoft, Knox said. He noted that, in a session at the WPC titled “Competing to Win with Visual Studio 2005 and Team System,” he detailed some scenarios where Microsoft went up against IBM Rational and beat that offering to win business. The wins included a deal with Dell where Microsoft beat out Rational’s ClearCase and ClearQuest version control and change management solutions, a win at a financial services company in New York, and some wins in Europe, Knox said.

One of the ways that Microsoft challenges the perception that IBM is the safe bet is “we walk through the fact that .Net is now mission-critical,” Knox said. Microsoft also points out the performance gains .Net delivers, the business value Microsoft can provide over IBM Rational, and “how we’ve advanced over the Rational point products and we’re integrated from the ground up.”

Knox insists that at the ALM level, price is not the biggest part of the decision about which solution to choose.

“Price is not the biggest deal,” he said. “You also have to look at the administrative costs and the consulting costs.” Knox said he estimates the price of IBM Rational’s competitive offerings to be up to three times Microsoft’s price, but adding in administrative and consulting costs, IBM’s solution could be up to five times more expensive.

However, Knox acknowledges that Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team System does not cover all of the areas that IBM Rational’s tool set covers, including modeling and requirements management. “But in the areas where we’ve competed, we’ve won,” Knox said, noting the Microsoft integration story as a factor. And “simplification is a big part of the story,” he said.

That Microsoft is targeting IBM is no surprise. Microsoft has historically sought out the market leader in areas where it has not led. Yet in the ALM space, Microsoft is an upstart with its nascent Visual Studio Team System and only months-old Team Foundation Server solutions.

Some market research firms show IBM Rational ahead of Microsoft in revenue and slightly above Microsoft in developer perception of the tools.

According to a May 2006 study by market research firm Gartner, of Stamford, Conn., IBM is the worldwide market share leader in the application development and project and portfolio management software marketplace based on total software revenue for 2005. IBM officials said this marks the fifth consecutive year that the company has led the application development software market.

IBM held a 25.4 percent share of the market, Gartner said, more than twice the share of its nearest competitor, Microsoft.

Evans Data, of Santa Cruz, Calif., said Rational Application Developer came out as top among 11 IDEs (integrated development environments). The IDEs rated were Adobe Systems’ Macromedia Studio 8, Borland’s Delphi and JBuilder, Eclipse, IBM’s Rational Application Developer and WebSphere Studio, Microsoft’s Visual Studio .Net, NetBeans, Oracle’s JDeveloper, Sun Microsystems’ Java Studio, and Sybase’s PowerBuilder. Evans Data conducted surveys of 1,200 developers in the spring.

Click here to read about how Borland is focusing on ALM.

Microsoft, however, is betting on its partners to help the company move ahead of IBM.

“Our partners lead and pull our tools through, so we try to enable them,” Knox said. “I think when those studies are done next year you’ll see some really different results.”

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