IBM has released its first set of pre-built software for the WebSphere portal, providing basic templates for specific applications such as content management and collaboration.

The company released a set of five accelerators, software components that can be deployed as is or customised and enhanced with a range of IBM development tools.

The accelerators - Dashboard Accelerator, Collaboration Accelerator, Self-Service Accelerator, Content Accelerator and Enterprise Suite Accelerator - run on Version 6.0.1 of WebSphere Portal. The Dashboard Accelerator also includes support for Portal Express, which is targeted at small and mid-sized businesses.

IBM also announced that next week it will ship the IBM Portlet for Google Gadgets, announced in February, which lets users pull Google gadgets into their network, and use them safely behind the firewall.

The accelerator approach represents a shift for IBM, which in the past provided tools to build portal applications to run within WebSphere Portal.

Microsoft has been using the accelerator concept for some time to provide functionality on top of platforms such as Office, but experts say IBM is trying to provide alternatives for users.

"IBM is telling a good flexibility and choice story here around letting people choose what components they will license and which ones they will not," says Matt Brown, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Microsoft has gotten rid of the word portal and is putting everything in the box with SharePoint."

IBM used its WebSphere Portlet Factory and Rational tools to build the accelerators, and users will turn to the same tools to customise the accelerators either by modifying the existing components or creating new ones.

"Up to this point we have provided tools to build these components, and then provided the based architecture to run them in," says Larry Bowden, vice president of portals and Web interaction services at IBM. "Now you don't have to spend the time building it yourself."

Bowden says IBM will use the accelerators to begin emphasising its newest development tool, the Lotus Component Designer, which is a rapid applications development tool. Users would be able to develop components that would run in WebSphere or the Notes 8 client due to ship midyear.

"It will take more of a Visual Basic or Domino skill level to build [components for accelerators] where in the past it took more of a J2EE skill set," he says.

IBM also has added support for Web 2.0 technologies, including Asynchronous Java + XML (AJAX) and Representational State Transfer services, which helps portal applications perform more like desktop applications.

The Dashboard Accelerator is focused on aggregating real-time performance information and is available now.

Later this year, IBM will release the Collaboration Accelerator, which includes team workspaces, document management and social networking tools, and the Self-Service Accelerator, which provides capabilities such as viewing paycheck or tax information and managing personal information.

In the second half of this year, IBM will release Content Accelerator, which is focused on building websites, intranets and extranets, and Enterprise Suite Accelerator, which will bring together features of the other accelerators as well as forms and offline support.

The Dashboard Accelerator costs $67,000 per processor in the US. Pricing on the other accelerators was not announced.