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Microsoft pushes back release of e-commerce software

The company again delays its release of BizTalk Server 2000, software for linking different computing systems to exchange data and conduct business over the Web.

    SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft has again pushed back the release date for a key piece of its e-commerce infrastructure software.

    Company officials at a press conference here today said BizTalk Server 2000, Microsoft's software for linking different computing systems to exchange data and conduct business over the Web, is still in development and will not debut until next year.

    As first reported by CNET News.com, Microsoft earlier this year delayed the software's release from the first half of this year until the second half of the year, as the company worked to add a new component. Now Microsoft expects the product to ship in the first half of next year, said Michael Risse, general manager of Microsoft's .Net solutions group.

    "In January, we had set bad expectations on the ability to ship this year, so we'll ship it next year," Risse said. "We're on the right path, but we won't ship as soon as we want."

    Microsoft released a public test version of BizTalk Server last month. Microsoft executives said the delay stems from efforts to ensure all of BizTalk Server's features work as advertised.

    "We've added a tremendous amount of new stuff since we announced it," said Barry Goffe, group manager of Microsoft's .Net developer and enterprise group. "We ship based on quality, not based on date."

    While Microsoft fiddles with BizTalk's code, competitors, including rivals such as Sun Microsystems, IBM and Oracle, and smaller firms such as Tibco and Vitria, are closing in.

    BizTalk Server is Microsoft's entry into the emerging software integration market, which is expected to grow from $400 million last year to $1.8 billion by 2002, according to research firm Gartner.

    The software is part of Microsoft's family of business software formally launched at the press conference here. The family of eight products, dubbed .Net Enterprise Server, serves as the foundation of Microsoft's new Internet strategy to drive the Windows operating system more fully onto the Net.

    BizTalk's absence represents a hole in Microsoft's newly revamped software lineup. Analysts say software such as BizTalk is becoming more critical as e-commerce grows, and companies need to build Web sites that link them seamlessly with their customers, suppliers and partners. That means they need to tie together business software that was never meant to be integrated, such as financial and human resource systems.

    BizTalk Server uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) to tie computing systems together. XML is a Web standard touted as having the potential to revolutionize the way businesses exchange data. It not only allows companies to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with customers and partners, but it delivers sound, video and other data across the Web.

    As previously reported, Microsoft is building "orchestration" into BizTalk Server. The feature allows a company to easily choreograph how an e-commerce site functions and how information is passed through computing systems to complete a transaction.

    Analysts say the trickiest part in large-scale Web development is tying the user interface on the Web browser to back-end databases, purchasing software and warehouse order-processing systems. Combining these elements allows them to work in tandem to complete a single online sale. BizTalk Server's orchestration feature allows businesses to visually map all of these pieces together.

    In related news, the company today began shipping SQL Server 2000, database software for storing and collecting corporate information; Exchange 2000 messaging software; Host Integration Server 2000, software that allows businesses to link corporate information from mainframe computers to the Web; and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000, security and Web caching software.

    Other .Net Enterprise Server products, such as the Commerce Server for building e-commerce Web sites and the Application Center for managing Web sites, will ship by the end of the year, Risse said.