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Microsoft steps into knowledge management

The software giant rolls out Microsoft BackOffice Server 4.5, along with new knowledge management software called Team Productivity Update for BackOffice Server 4.5.

Slowly but surely, Microsoft is getting on the knowledge management software bandwagon.

The software giant today rolled out Microsoft BackOffice Server 4.5, its integrated server suite for branch offices, departments, and midsized organizations, along with new knowledge management software called Team Productivity Update for BackOffice Server 4.5, which lets teams of users manage shared documents.

Team Productivity Update helps end users, with IT control, create an online area where team members can share and collaborate on documents, view team calendars and contacts, and analyze line-of-business data, the company said.

Such knowledge management software is used to provide a system for companies to transform information from various sources--the Web, back-office applications, databases--into client applications for making business decisions. Microsoft's nemesis in the groupware market, Lotus Development, has already established a presence in the knowledge management software market.

"This is a great proof point for the kind of knowledge management solutions you can build off of BackOffice and Office 2000," said Kevin Beunig, BackOffice product manager. "We've found that users want to pull together information and centralize it on team level portals."

Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies, said Microsoft has a good idea in the Team Productivity Update even though the product will be in beta for sometime, and will take some time to see if it is truly applicable.

"The theory is right. It's a good idea to create this functionality within BackOffice," said Davis. "It doesn't just rely on one application. It spans them all--the database, Office, and Exchange. If it delivers, it will be a more full function collaborative solution."

The Team Productivity Update also ties into Microsoft's client-side software strategy. The shared workspace set up with the tool is an extension to a team member's desktop via Microsoft's Outlook 2000 messaging and collaboration client or the Internet Explorer 5.0 browser.

Beunig said a wizard allows end users to assign a project name, add team members, and specify which applications will be included in the Team Workspace, with no special programming or understanding of security settings or file structures.

Team leaders or project managers will also be able to select from a group of applications that will ship with the update, including team documents based on Office 2000 Server Extensions, Exchange Server-based collaborative applications like a team calendar, team contacts and discussions, and a Microsoft SQL Server-based project issues tracking application.

The new Team Productivity Update to BackOffice Server is currently under development and is scheduled to be available to customers in the third quarter, Microsoft said.

"The goal is to make it easier for teams to create team level portals for documents, data, and information," Beunig said.

BackOffice 4.5 includes a set of consoles to help IT administrators manage common tasks. The BackOffice 4.5 suite includes Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, Systems Management Server 2.0, and Windows NT Server 4.0 Service Pack 4.

One of the major goals of the release is to simplify deployment of BackOffice servers in remote or branch offices of large companies, Microsoft said.

For example, BackOffice Server 4.5 includes tools to help users setup Microsoft Exchange to connect to a primary site on a wide-area network for corporate-wide email and messaging. Setup and installation of BackOffice 4.5 can be fully scripted, so that remote sites can easily configure the server.

BackOffice 4.5 costs $3,099 with five client access licenses.

Team Productivity Update is currently under development and is scheduled to be available in the third quarter, Microsoft said.