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Microsoft has bagged one of the brains behind IBM's application server and middleware strategies to land a bigger punch in corporate computing.

The chief architect for IBM's software group, Donald Ferguson, has quit the computing giant after 22 years, during which time he architected and helped establish the WebSphere Application Server's current number one market position. Since the application server, WebSphere has been developed by IBM as a brand to include portal, integrators, adaptors, and other tools.

Equally important, Ferguson has captained development and integration between WebSphere and IBM's other middleware products, DB2, Tivoli, Rational and Lotus, as chairman of the company's SWG Architecture Board.

Integration has become an important architectural vision at IBM. The strategy is designed to simplify development and support of IBM's middleware by software engineers through re-use of common, standards-based components.

It is also underpins IBM's bigger service oriented architecture (SOA) strategy, with elements such as WebSphere Business Modeler, Rational RequisitePro, and Tivoli Provisioning Manager integrated to help in the design, rollout and management of applications and software assets built and stored using Rational tools.

Ferguson is joining Microsoft's Office of the CTO as a technical fellow in platforms and strategy, and will work with Ray Ozzie - creator of IBM's Lotus Notes email and collaboration environment that Microsoft has been trying to displace using Exchange Server and Office.

Ferguson specialises in web services, design patterns, and business modelling - in other words all the elements seen as integral to building and managing SOAs. Ferguson is likely to work with Ozzie mapping out continued integration between Microsoft's Office and server products for collaboration, and on integration between Office, server and tools for SOAs.

Microsoft said Ferguson's job as a technical fellow includes "understanding the trends, architecting and piloting the implications for existing and new products and evangelizing Microsoft's vision".

Despite much of the hype around Microsoft versus Google, Microsoft actually regards IBM as a more realistic threat because of its presence in enterprise computing - specifically on server, tools and collaboration. Recent years have seen Microsoft attempt to soak up IBM's experience by hiring the company's top brains.

IBM recently appointed Bill Hilf to oversee its Linux and open source interoperability lab. He'd previously served as a leader on IBM's Linux and open source technical strategy, while Microsoft hired individuals from the Rational application development tools team that was purchased by IBM in 2003 for its own Visual Studio tools.

You can read more on Ferguson here and here. ®

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