Microsoft Partners Question Commerce Server Roadmap

Commerce Server 2007 includes tools for building end-to-end ecommerce applications and is one of Microsoft's most enigmatic products. Since launching Commerce Server 2007 last summer, Microsoft not only hasn't provided a roadmap, but has also shuffled the product within various internal groups.

Partners like the features that Commerce Server offers, but some say Microsoft's lack of a coherent marketing strategy around the offering has made it difficult to get customers excited.

Commerce Server is quickly becoming irrelevant in retail industry verticals, said a source who requested anonymity. "People don't even mention Commerce Server, it's not even part of their focus. It seems that maybe Microsoft doesn't see this as a big enough market," said the source.

But on Wednesday, Microsoft said it has formalized a partnership with Cactus Commerce, an Ottawa-based ecommerce specialist with which the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor has been working for nearly a decade. Microsoft also revealed that the next version of Commerce Server, code-named Commerce Server 7, will be released in mid-2010.

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Microsoft has acquired the intellectual property assets Cactus has built on top of Commerce Server, and "will be repackaging them in the Microsoft way," said Ryan Donovan, product manager for Commerce Server.

Cactus has built a deep skill set around Commerce Server, and Microsoft will make that programmatically available for customers and partners, Donovan said. "It's a very specialized set of skills that go into these deployments."

In the second half of next year, Microsoft will roll out 'accelerators' that add additional features to Commerce Server 2007 without affecting existing deployments, said Donovan.

Bob Shear, president of Greystone Solutions, a Boston-based Microsoft partner, welcomed the news and said Commerce Server provides one of the most viable paths to market for companies looking to get their ecommerce operations up and running quickly.

"Commerce Server 2007 has many competitive advantages over the alternatives that exist in the enterprise ecommerce space," said Shear.

However, other partners, fed up with the lack of information Microsoft has offered about Commerce Server, dismissed the news.

"The Commerce Server product is radioactive within Microsoft, and I think they're trying to find a way to make it disappear. I can't imagine how they could consider what they've offered to be any kind of 'roadmap'," said one partner, who asked not to be named.

Recent speculation has been that Commerce Server would cease to be a standalone product, with its functionality being absorbed into BizTalk Server successor products and exposed via Office client applications, as part of Microsoft's software plus services strategy.

Acknowledging the rumors that have been swirling about the future of Commerce Server, Donovan said the product is a more complex deployment than other Microsoft offerings.

"The Commerce Server deployment lifecycle is much longer than with a lot of Microsoft products, because we need to tailor the product around organizations' specific business rules," said Donovan.

Ironically, if Microsoft does managed to release Commerce Server 7 in 2010, that would be an improvement over the release cycle for Commerce Server 2007, which launched nearly five years after its predecessor, said another source.

"The problem then was that they weren't doing any sustained marketing during that period, and there was a perceived lack of commitment from Microsoft. And that appears to have been a pretty accurate perception," the source said.