Microsoft plans e-commerce bid

Microsoft is expected to make a splashy, tie-it-all-together electronic-commerce announcement this week, orchestrated to show big corporate users that its products can handle high-traffic Web sites.

Chairman and CEO Bill Gates and president Steve Ballmer are due to speak at the event, which set off speculation that Microsoft would use it to announce a much-rumoured company reorganisation. Microsoft's Internet group has lacked a full-time leader since December. Microsoft declined to comment on its plans for the San Francisco event.

But according to sources involved in the planning, also on the agenda are details about the vendor's plans for a revamp of its portal and the announcement of Commerce Alliance, a new program for systems integrators that specialise in building electronic-commerce sites based on Windows NT and other Microsoft products.

Microsoft already offers several Web products such as Internet Information Server, a generic Web server, and Site Server Commerce Edition, a Web server aimed at online retailers. What's missing, according to analysts, is a clear outline of how the products work with back-end systems and databases -- particularly non-Microsoft software.

"When a big company like a bank or big retailer goes online, most of their accounting or inventory data isn't in Microsoft products. It's in IBM mainframes" and other legacy systems, said Scott Smith, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Virginia.

Some information technology shops doubt how well Microsoft products interoperate with their existing core hardware and software, Smith said, and Microsoft should use the event to respond to those concerns directly.

Cambridge Technology Partners plans to attend and discuss the middleware it's building to fill that IT need, said Sandy Blythe, a vice president at the systems integrator that works closely with Microsoft. Cambridge Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has signed a deal with Microsoft, in part to help large users install the vendor's electronic-commerce software.

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