Interest in software that enables companies to build marketplaces on the Web is not as keen as it used to be back in the early days of e-commerce. However, Microsoft Wednesday made a commitment to keep developing its offering in this space for at least the next three years.
Microsoft released roadmap information for Commerce Server, saying it would release the next major update of the product in mid-2010. The announcement put an end to speculation that the company was not interested in staying competitive in the e-commerce enablement market.
The next version of the product is code-named Commerce Server 7, a name Microsoft's Ryan Donovan joked was in line with Microsoft's "creative" names for forthcoming products. (The company code name for the next major version of the Windows client is Windows 7). Donovan is a product line manager for Microsoft.
Microsoft has several goals for the design of Commerce Server 7, including tight integration with new versions of complementary Microsoft products, such as the .NET Framework and SQL Server, that also will be released around the same time. Microsoft also plans to include the ability for companies to build social networking features into their e-commerce sites using Commerce Server, as well as giving them the ability to integrate product catalogs with blogging and content-syndication sites.
Microsoft also wants to improve the user experience of sites built with Commerce Server so they go "beyond the Web storefront," Donovan said. The company will add features to the product so businesses can create sites that provide a user experience similar to the one customers have if they visit a retail store, he said.
Until the next major update ships, Microsoft will provide enhancements it calls "accelerators" to Commerce Server 2007, the current version of the product, Donovan said. The company is working with Ottawa-based Cactus Commerce to build these add-ons, which will begin shipping in the second half of 2008.
The accelerators will include features that integrate Commerce Server more closely with other Microsoft products, such as the Office SharePoint Server collaboration software and Microsoft Dynamics business applications. Microsoft also will offer an accelerator to tie Commerce Server directly to Web-based search services such as Windows Live Search and Windows Live Local, as well as to the company's service for purchasing ads based on keyword searches, adCenter.
In addition to these enhancements, Microsoft is building industry-specific accelerators for Commerce Server that will make it easier for businesses in a particular industry to tailor e-commerce sites to their particular industry, Donovan said. Specifically, Microsoft will offer enhancements for the apparel retail, general merchandise retail, electronics retail, digital downloads, general business and hospitality services industries.
Donovan said Microsoft has about 5,000 customers for Commerce Server. Competitors to the product include IBM's IBM WebSphere Commerce and Art Technology Group's ATG Commerce.