Blogging pioneer Six Apart has made an aggressive move to defend and expand its presence in the workplace now that major vendors such as IBM and Microsoft have begun to build blog components into their enterprise collaboration platforms.

On Tuesday, Six Apart released the most significant upgrade in years of its enterprise blogging software Movable Type, boosting what many industry experts already consider to be the most sophisticated product of its kind.

Movable Type 4 has been rearchitected to simplify companies' management and deployment of corporate blogs and the creation of online communities, Six Apart officials said.

The company also announced its intention to release an open source version of Movable Type in this year's third quarter for companies and developers interested in extending the functionality of the platform.

The new version's enhancements keep Movable Type ahead of the rudimentary blogging capabilities vendors such as IBM and Microsoft have begun putting in their collaboration platforms.

"No one has anything as robust as Movable Type. Six Apart has a big head start," said Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst.

However, Six Apart must keep enhancing the product and making sure it's easy to integrate with enterprise systems, because what Microsoft and IBM lack in sophistication they make up for in the convenience of providing broad, one-stop collaboration platforms.

"This is where the Movable Type story needs to be stronger," said Mike Gotta, a Burton Group analyst.

Increasingly, enterprise customers expect to have an integrated suite of Web 2.0 collaboration software that includes things like blog, wiki and content syndication applications, Gotta said.

A step in the right direction is Movable Type's inclusion in Intel's SuiteTwo bundle of Web 2.0 enterprise collaboration software, although it remains to be seen if SuiteTwo will succeed in the market, Gotta said.

SuiteTwo, which also includes wiki software from Socialtext, integration services from SpikeSource, and content syndication tools from NewsGator Technologies and SimpleFeed, became available in April.

Integration and bundling efforts aside, Six Apart should also consider building a wiki component for Movable Type, because there is so much synergy between wikis and blogs, Gotta said.

Of course, Six Apart must continue with its aggressive innovation and upgrade release cycle, so that it can keep Movable Type's functionality safely ahead of offerings from the likes of IBM and Microsoft, Koplowitz said.

"It's always dangerous to be in the crosshairs of big organizations like IBM and Microsoft," Koplowitz said.

Movable Type customers include Intel, Oracle, Boeing, The Washington Post, and New York University.

Highlights in Movable Type 4 include:

- Blog publishing improvements such as an installation and upgrade wizard, enhanced template management tools, and a redesigned user interface;

- Community-creation capabilities such as the ability for blog owners to let readers become members of their websites and able to post text, photos, video and audio;

- IT administration tools to manage multiple blogs and users from a central interface;

- Scalability features such as the ability to run Movable Type in multiple servers;

- Integration capabilities to tie in to enterprise systems and directories.

The beta version of Movable Type 4 can be downloaded from the product's main site. The product is free to use for personal use. Existing customers with commercial, education, and nonprofit licenses for the product's current version can upgrade to version 4 at a discount. More information about pricing is available here