IBM has bought open-source app vendor Gluecode for an undisclosed sum.

Gluecode provides software and related subscription support services based on open-source technology from the Apache Geronimo application server. IBM expects to offer the technology as a low-end, open-source alternative to its WebSphere systems.

The deal - IBM's first purchase of an open-source vendor - bolsters IBM's commitment to such technologies, said Robert Rosen, president of IBM user group Share. "They have recognised that WebSphere is not an inexpensive product to acquire and support," he said. "I can now invest in these types of technologies with the assurance that there is support out there. You're not hanging out there all by yourself."

The deal also points to IBM's belief that Apache Geronimo, the J2EE server from Apache, is the open-source application server of the future, said Robert LeBlanc, general manager of application and integration middleware at IBM.

Users "can start with the Gluecode products and move up to the higher-end WebSphere offerings," LeBlanc said. "We are extending that WebSphere reach down to the lower end of the market."

IBM will allow users and business partners to download Gluecode application server software and start development and deployment for free. They can then purchase software support as needed from IBM, LeBlanc said.

Nathaniel Palmer, an analyst at Delphi Group, called the Gluecode acquisition IBM's most significant since it bought Lotus in 1995. Under the Gluecode model, IBM can use the work of thousands of volunteer Gluecode developers and then bring that work to market as tested, validated and value-added software, he said.

"The potential is there now to expand greatly with access to IBM resources," Palmer said. "It removes a major integration burden. We're talking about just about any project being developed in the J2EE environment that will now be offered in those models."

As part of the deal, IBM will become an active contributor to the Apache Geronimo open-source project and will expand the existing community of developers that work on the project.