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Microsoft tests dressed up Web software

A preliminary version of Content Management Server 2002, which helps businesses create and maintain Web content, gets a test run on Tuesday.

Microsoft is sprucing up its business software for managing Web content.

On Tuesday, the software giant released a test version of Content Management Server 2002, software that helps businesses create and maintain Web content.

Analysts say the new version offers the first major improvements in the software since Microsoft acquired the technology from start-up NCompass Labs more than a year ago.

Content Management Server, part of the Microsoft's .Net e-business software, competes with products from software makers such as Documentum, Interwoven and Vignette in the growing market for managing Web content. According to Forrester Research, a recent survey of 900 businesses found that one-third planned to buy content management software this year.

"They've really been selling the NCompass solution without major tweaks," Forrester analyst Nicholas Wilkoff said. "This new version is definitely a step up and allows Microsoft to more directly compete in large-scale deals."

The final version of the software is expected this fall. Key new features in Content Management Server include support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for data exchange, and for Microsoft's .Net Web services initiative, said Chris Ramsey, Microsoft's lead product manager for Content Management Server.

Other new features include integration with other Microsoft products, such as Office XP, Visual Studio.Net software development tools and Microsoft's other e-business software, Ramsey said.

Support for Office XP allows people to easily publish documents to the Web with Microsoft Word, he said. Content Management Server also integrates with Microsoft's Application Center, which is software that manages Web sites.

Application Center lets software programmers "cluster" their Web sites on servers. Clustering refers to the ability to tie two or more servers for greater power and protection against failures. Application Center also monitors the health of computing systems, viewing them as if they were a single machine, so computer professionals can more easily detect and fix problems when they arise.

The test version of Content Management Server is available as a free download at Microsoft's Web site.