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IBM Goes To School

It's making some of its key middleware available to colleges and universities that want to use it for teaching computer skills.
IBM is making its development tools and some of its priciest middleware available free to colleges and universities that want to use them to teach computer science and programming skills.

IBM has prompted 300 to 400 members of its labs and research staff to visit neighboring colleges and universities to help them establish curriculums that include Java, WebSphere Application Server, Tivoli system management, and other IBM products. Its Academic Initiative even includes 50 prepared courses and instructional materials that schools may use as prototypes for their own classes. Teachers can access the software here.

Before being acquired by IBM 18 months ago, Rational Software offered its tools and services to colleges and universities at cut rates to counter inexpensive development tools sold by Borland Corp. in university bookstores and free Microsoft tools included on a disk with each text sold on a Microsoft product, says Buell Duncan, general manager of IBM's Software Group developer relations.

Mayur Mehta, chairman of the department of computer information systems at Texas State University-San Marcos, says the offerings will help him bring his 320 students up to date. His department already uses Java and several other IBM technologies, along with such open-source code as Apache and Linux. Three years ago, he said in an interview at the Rational user group conference Tuesday, "the whole curriculum was based on client-server. They missed the boat when Java came along." Students now can do an enterprise-level project, selecting the IBM, Microsoft, or open-source technologies they wish to use, he said.

IBM is also establishing a partnership with Northface University in Salt Lake City, a school dedicated to turning out enterprise software developers for large businesses. "Students ask me if their future jobs will be outsourced to Bangalore," said H. Scott McKinley, chairman and CEO of the school, at a Tuesday news conference. He said he tells them they won't if they learn to focus on the business problems of their companies instead of just producing code.

Grady Booch, a former Rational Software researcher and now an IBM Fellow, sits on the university's advisory board. He is co-author of Unified Modeling Language used in Rational design tools and now a standard used in tools from Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, and others.

Buell repeatedly emphasized that IBM is only working with schools that support open standards, which means it won't contribute toward a curriculum heavily built around Microsoft Windows. But McKinley noted that 70% of the standards Northface teaches students now are shared by Microsoft and IBM, with the two frequently collaborating on new standards for Web services, such as Simple Object Access Protocol.

Schools involved in the initiative include Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, Universidade Brasilia in Brazil, Politecnico di Milano in Italy, and the Institut Superieur dí Electronique du Nord in Lille, France. Schools in the United States include the University of Houston at Clearlake, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., and Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.

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