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Microsoft To Give 'BizDesk' An Interim Facelift

Solution providers who have complained about Microsoft Commerce Server's "Business Desk" will get some relief without having to wait till the next major product release.

Microsoft is working on "an interim" update to Business Desk, the toolset that enables a site developer or manager to develop, deploy and manage Web commerce applications, a Microsoft spokesman told CRN.

He said the team hopes to have the fix out in the first half of 2004 but would not comment on packaging. The important thing is that solution providers will not have to wait for the expected next full version of Commerce Server, the so-called "Discovery" suite that is not expected now until 2005.

"It is true that partners and customers have had issues with Business Desk," he conceded. The focus of the interim fix, he said, will be on improving the user experience. A new Commerce Server 2002 Service Pack is one delivery option for these improvements although that decision has not been made, he said.

Many solution providers have long bemoaned the non-intuitive nature of Business Desk, which is the vehicle for setting up and managing files, promotions, catalogs on commerce sites. "It is how you interact, configure and operate all the Commerce Server features," said one east coast VAR who works with the product.

"Everyone universally agrees that the 'Bizdesk' UI is bad," said one west coast solution provider who otherwise lauds Commerce Server 2002. He and other solution providers said talk of an interim fix is welcome news to them.

When Microsoft announced the slip to Discovery's schedule last June, solution providers suspected it was due to Microsoft aligning the new server suite around timing on Longhorn, the next version of Windows, and Office 12, aka the Longhorn version of Office.

"Jupiter phase two, or Discovery, was to be [available] in early form by late 2004 but then seemed to be repositioned around Office 12," said one east coast source close to Microsoft. "A lot of the things users have hated most was Business Desk functionality, it was so unintuitive and arcane and very hard for normal business people to use. Indications were that all of that was being subsumed by the programmable Office [12] components," he noted.

Microsoft is wavering on Longhorn timing. In his Comdex keynote Sunday night, Bill Gates would not utter a potential due date. At the Professional Developers Conference a few weeks ago, where early code was distributed, Microsoft group vice president Jim Allchin promised beta one of the Longhorn client for the second half of 2004. He did not put a date on the server component. Just a few weeks before senior vice president Paul Flessner reaffirmed that the client would ship in 2005, with a server version expected in 2006, although that could slip up to 18 months.

Even in the best-case scenario, the Microsoft spokesman said it is too early to tell if there will be linkages between Longhorn and the next phase of Jupiter.

At least one e-commerce solution provider was thrilled with the news of an interim release which presumably means there will be some time before the next major code changes. Now that Microsoft has released service packs that let Commerce Server 2002 and Content Management Server 2002 work better atop Windows Server 2003, he said "this gives me a good two solid years" to work off the existing code base."

For more on Jupiter's history see story.

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