Microsoft workflow strategy baffles vendors

Microsoft workflow strategy baffles vendors

Microsoft is about to make a late entry into the workflow market. But its two-pronged strategy is perplexing analysts.

Microsoft is this week expected to introduce the long-awaited graphical workflow design tool code-named Grizzly. It will ship as part of the Developer Edition of Office 2000 and will let developers design workflow schemas on top of SQL Server.

But at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Atlanta earlier this month, the company demonstrated a different workflow tool that builds on Microsoft Exchange. This second tool may ship as a component of Exchange 2000 or may be sold separately as an add-on to Exchange, according to Eric Lockard, Microsoft's general manager of the Exchange business unit, in a presentation at the conference.

Richard Medina, a senior analyst with Chicago-based research firm Doculabs, said the two Microsoft workflow components are "a cause for concern" for developers, because such a strategy suggests that neither of them provides a general solution for all workflow needs. "And if they're not differentiated enough, one of them could die," said Medina. That would leave developers who make the wrong choice stranded.

Neil Charney, group product manager for developer tools at Microsoft, said both workflow tools will use the same graphical interface, making it easier for developers who start work with Grizzly to later design workflows for Exchange 2000. But in order to create a workflow that includes both database and messaging components, developers will have to use both tools separately, Charney said.

Nathaniel Palmer, an analyst with The Delphi Group in Boston, said he believes this same confusion also reigns inside Microsoft, which has been "chasing its tail" trying to catch up with Lotus Development.

Lotus recently launched Domino Workflow 2.0, based on technology it acquired earlier this year.

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