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Tech Industry

MS server attack gets personal

Microsoft intensifies its assault on the Internet server market with a BackOffice add-on for personalizing Web sites.

Microsoft (MSFT) is intensifying its assault on the Internet server market with a new product for managing and creating personalized Web sites.

At its TechEd developer conference in Orlando, Florida next week, the company will introduce Site Server, a new addition to its BackOffice suite of servers. A high-end version of the server, Enterprise Edition, will also include a revamped and dramatically cheaper version of Microsoft's Merchant Server electronic shopping software known as Commerce Server.

Site Server could put additional pressure on Microsoft's chief rival in the Net server space, Netscape Communications (NSCP), which derived 37 percent of its revenue from server sales last quarter.

The new Microsoft product is really a pastiche of servers found in other offerings from the company. It includes features for generating personalized Web pages based on a user's preferences and replication so that content from one server can be quickly broadcast to other servers. Both capabilities are found in the Microsoft Commercial Internet System, a pricier collection of servers aimed at Internet service providers and large Web sites.

With Site Server, Microsoft said it is going after Web sites and corporate intranet developers that don't require the more industrial-strength features of MCIS. Site Server also includes Web site analysis tools based on technology Microsoft acquired earlier this year from NetCarta, and Web traffic analysis tools acquired from Interse.

The basic version of Site Server will cost $1,499. The Enterprise Edition, with Commerce Server, will cost $4,999, including a license to set up one e-commerce site. Additional sites will cost $499.

That price is a bargain compared to the $18,500 Microsoft charges to set up one commerce site with Merchant Server. Russ Stockdale, group product manager at Microsoft, maintains that the company is not cutting back the technology due to slow sales, but is instead trying to reposition the product for a broader audience.

Commerce Server will use the Active Server pages feature of Internet Information Server 3.0 to generate Web pages, and it will be more open to third-party applications, such as electronic data interchange programs, than Merchant Server was. Stockdale said Microsoft will cease to offer Merchant Server as a separate product from Site Server Enterprise Edition.

The company will also include its Visual InterDev development tool with Site Server through the end of the year. The server will go into public beta testing in mid-May and ship in the summer.

Some analysts think that the Site Server will appeal to Web developers who want a tightly integrated set of tools.

"The difficulty right now is to create an advanced Web site," said Rob Enderle, a senior industry analyst with market research firm Giga Information Group. "The folks that are doing Web sites are not typically IT people. It's marketing or people coming out of a sales organization. The more simple or integrated the offering, the better off these people are."