IBM To Buy E-Forms ISV PureEdge

The deal is expected to close July 22, said Ambuj Goyal, general manager of Workplace, Portal, Lotus and Collaboration Software Products at IBM. Terms of the agreement weren&'t disclosed. PureEdge CEO Mark Upson is slated to stay on at IBM for the transition.

Plans call for IBM to integrate PureEdge's e-forms functionality into IBM Workplace and Lotus products, IBM executives said. Interoperability between the higher-level PureEdge forms and the native Domino/Notes forms will continue, they added.

The acquisition may signal an emerging standards war over e-forms interoperability. IBM, PureEdge, Documentum, SAP and Adobe Systems have pledged support for the emerging Xforms standard, while Microsoft's stance on Xforms remains unclear, according to Upson. Xforms is designed to ease data interchange between various applications and processes.

"Microsoft has had involvement in Xforms but hasn't announced support. Every other major vendor has," said Ken Bisconti, vice president of Workplace, Portal, Lotus and Collaboration Software Products at IBM.

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The PureEdge deal could call into question IBM's contention that it&'s a platform player and ally of third-party ISVs. IBM Software executives have repeatedly said the company offers a platform for third-party development and claim that Microsoft--with its business solutions and application lineup--competes with third-party ISVs. Both companies, however, are creeping up the software stack.

Forms interoperability needs to be baked into middleware across product lines, according to Goyal. "The question becomes, what is needed across the portfolio in middleware and becomes fundamental technology in middleware vs. an app built on top?” he said. “Forms have been part of Lotus software for a long time. But it was built into the client/server technology, and Notes forms could not be integrated across the portfolio.” IBM Software will continue to team with partners on applications and services around that middleware, he added.

Microsoft is fielding its own e-forms capability in its InfoPath desktop application and in a planned forms server that it demonstrated last week at its annual partner conference.

IBM has often trotted out PureEdge as an ISV partner when discussing current and future products. For example, PureEge worked closely with IBM on its upcoming Viper database, which promises to meld management of native unstructured and structured data.

Industry analysts said IBM has long been aware of the need for content and data integration. "Many enterprises in such verticals as government, insurance, health care and banking have massive data and content assimilation projects to work through before wider application integration and SOA benefits can be realized,” said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Gilford, N.H. “Data and content, increasingly dominated by XML technologies, are the horse that must lead the SOA cart."

Gardner downplayed the notion of IBM contending with ISVs. "This makes them compete more against Adobe, Crystal, etc. But that is a small set of ISVs, and forms need to give way to XML and app framework-based interoperability. The interface gives way to the middleware,” he said.