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Whither Commerce Server?

Microsoft will continue to offer e-commerce functionality beyond the newly shipping Commerce Server 2007, but the company is still being coy about how it will be delivered to customers.

e-commerce Server

The next step is to tailor the technology for small and midsize businesses and for hosting partners, said Brian Goldfarb, lead product manager for Microsoft's Web Platform and Tools team. How that offering will be packaged and delivered will be settled in the next 18 months or so, he said.

"We will focus on building the core commerce infrastructure, the basic functionality that everyone needs to take advantage of e-commerce—the shopping cart, the catalog—and tailor it for SMBs and shared hosting companies," Goldfarb said. "Nobody in this space is doing that today." Commerce Server competes with offerings from ATG and IBM.

Whether Commerce Server's core capability will show up in a successor server SKU or be delivered via the platform—within ASP.Net or BizTalk Server, for example—remains unclear. Both options are possible, Goldfarb said.

Still, he came close to promising a successor Commerce Server SKU for high-value functions needed by enterprises that go beyond those core deliverables.

"There is early thinking about how to make the marketing engines better, to make the custom experience, BI [business intelligence] and optimization better," Goldfarb told CRN. "There is absolutely a need for the technology, and I do agree there's need for a SKU. But how you package up that SKU is unclear," he added.

Some partners say much of Commerce Server's functionality likely will show up in BizTalk Server successor products and be exposed via Office client applications.

"With SOA and Web services, most of Commerce Server will be in BizTalk, with the UI integrated into Office and linked via smart forms using the Unified Communications Framework," one knowledgeable source told CRN a few months ago. The new Commerce Server 2007 "will hold the current user base until the next wave migration. ISV potential will remain for those who want a discrete Commerce Server- like product."

The fact that Goldfarb was the go-to guy for this announcement is noteworthy. Commerce Server, like Content Management Server, has bounced around at Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., company quietly moved Commerce Server out of the Business Process Integration group last month. The server is now part and parcel of Goldfarb's Web Platform and Tools team, which has responsibility for ASP.Net, Atlas, Visual Studio, Internet Information Services and Internet Explorer for Web developers. In keeping with that focus, the new developer edition of Commerce Server 2007 will be free, according to Goldfarb. In the past, that edition cost about $500, he said. The price for the Enterprise Edition of Commerce Server 2007 is about $20,000 per CPU before volume discounts.

The latest Commerce Server has been completely rewritten in .Net 2.0 and uses Windows Forms and ASP.Net, so developers can use their current skills, Goldfarb said. The product also has tighter ties to BizTalk Server for easier integration with other applications and to SQL Server's reporting services. Commerce Server requires the use of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 or Release 2 and SQL Server 2000 or 2005, he said.

One partner, who requested anonymity, said the code revamp has its benefits but will require a significant rewrite of applications running on Commerce Server 2002 and Commerce Server 2000. The latter, based on the older Component Object Model (COM), is still used by many customers, and the application overhaul won't be trivial, he said.

It also ships with what Goldfarb called a production-ready site that VARs can set up quickly and customize as needed. The older version shipped with some templates to ease site creation, but not with a ready-to-roll application, he said.

The new server also claims scalability and performance perks. "It can support thousands and thousands of concurrent users and ships with support for the latest 32- and 64-bit hardware so it can grow with the customer," Goldfarb said.

Bob Shear, president of Greystone Solutions, a Boston-based Microsoft partner, welcomed the arrival of Commerce Server 2007. "I wish it was here sooner and the road map was clearer, but this is still probably the most cost-effective commerce server platform available from a major player," Shear said.

IBM Software's product is pricier and more hardware-intensive than Microsoft's offering, he added.

IBM Software shipped WebSphere Commerce 6.0 in April and will likely update it this fall, the Somers, N.Y.-based company said. That product lists for about $20,000 per processor. An Express version for small businesses lists for $3,500 for a developer edition or $200 per user.

Boston-based ATG ships an array of Java-centric commerce serving gear, but the average selling price is a few hundred thousand dollars. The company is a pioneer, but as the industry consolidates some say it's hard to justify going with what is perceived as a niche player. Others maintain that it is better to go with tried-and-true technology like ATG's than to get locked into Microsoft's stack, which can be pricey in its own right.

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