Microsoft Shows Commitment to Commerce Server 2007

Microsoft renews public commitment to Commerce Server.

Microsoft has answered questions about its commitment to its e-commerce server by rolling out a new roadmap for the platform, which the company acknowledges is still years away from taking full advantage of the current .NET Framework.

The company last month shipped Commerce Server 2007, the first release since the 2002 version. Microsoft also plans to ship vertical industry accelerators in the second half of next year, thanks to a partnership with Ottawa-based ISV Cactus Commerce Inc. The roadmap also calls for a major new release code-named "Commerce Server 7," which will be based on the .NET 3.x Framework.

"The announcement of the continued upgrade and support of Commerce Server is being done to primarily let the current user population know that Microsoft is still committed to it being a standalone product, and not being part of a larger offering," says Gene Alvarez, a Gartner Inc. e-commerce analyst.

Some had speculated that Commerce Server might be subsumed into BizTalk or SharePoint servers. The roadmap does call for tighter integration with those platforms, says Ryan Donovan, Microsoft's product unit manager for Commerce Server. The plan includes integration with Windows Dynamics, Live Services and the Silverlight cross-platform browser plug-in for rich Internet apps, Donovan says.

Commerce Server 2007 will simplify the development of Web-based storefront apps while providing better connectivity to back-end inventory management and order fulfillment systems through support for Web services, according to the company.

The new release supports connectors to systems from SAP America Inc., Oracle Corp.'s JD Edwards and Microsoft Dynamics, among others, through BizTalk Server adapters. Commerce Server 2007 provides profile, order, inventory and catalog subsystem adapters, also via BizTalk.

Of specific significance to developers is Commerce Server 2007's support for integration with Visual Studio 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0, including ASP.NET 2.0, which Microsoft asserts should markedly reduce the need for customized coding.

Commerce Server 2007 also offers improved catalog and inventory management, marketing, and reporting and analytics, according to Microsoft.

Behind the Curve
Microsoft's Donovan says Commerce Server 2007 doesn't support the current .NET 3.0 Framework because "the core architecture was designed before these technologies became available."

While the new release is the first based entirely on ASP.NET, Donovan points out that several parts of the product still have some instances of unmanaged code, such as order processing functions. "Those are still COM+-based for backward compatibility reasons," Donovan adds.

Commerce Server is one of several Web storefront and e-commerce catalog management platforms, but Gartner has viewed Microsoft's existing offering, Microsoft Commerce Server 2002, as a challenger to leaders Art Technology Group Inc. (ATG) and IBM Corp. in the research firm's Magic Quadrant.

Perhaps most noteworthy, Alvarez says, is that Commerce Server in the past has required significant customization, a feature once sought after but now a significant handicap: "You're seeing development environments becoming less popular for e-commerce. What organizations want is a framework to get started that covers the basics of e-commerce, and then they can develop from there."

Microsoft is trying to deliver that with the accelerators slated for delivery next year, which will facilitate development of specific industry deployment scenarios among key retail verticals such as apparel, electronics and hospitality.

"The industry accelerators would include all of the front-end changes that you need to have controls for viewing those sets of assets, all of the database schema extensions, all of the BizTalk adapter extensions and all of the business user management tools extensions," Donovan says.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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