Microsoft, IPlanet, IBM Ready E-Commerce Wares

IT executives looking for software to create e-commerce Web sites will soon get an eyeful from some big-name vendors.

This month, Microsoft Corp. will ship its Commerce Server 2000, and iPlanet will unveil major upgrades and integration features to its six e-commerce applications. In January, IBM Corp. will ship Version 5.1 of its WebSphere Commerce Suite, which will finally make Java the centerpiece of the platform.

The upshot for enterprise users is that they will be able to evaluate e-commerce software more as an integrated whole and less as a stitched-together hodgepodge.

Microsoft, iPlanet and IBM offer sell-side applications that include catalog, search, customer-tracking, data-mining, profiling and development tools. IPlanet has additional applications for activities such as billing and trading.

"E-commerce software is starting to get more like ERP than the pieces and parts it has been in the past," says Mitch Kramer, an analyst with Patricia Seybold Group. "The functionality is much richer and broader, and there is the ability to integrate with external applications such as financial systems."

Microsoft this month will ship Commerce Server 2000, which replaces Site Server Commerce Edition. The server has been redesigned to host electronic storefronts, or so-called sell-side commerce.

The server, which runs only on Windows 2000, features a new product-catalog system, management tools and online analytical processing-based reporting tools. It also features a number of enhanced data-mining and profiling capabilities. A new feature called Business Desk allows Web site managers to review reports, create marketing campaigns, update product data, check order status and modify profiles.

"The server performs more of an application-level role than an infrastructure role," says Rebekkah Kumar, lead product manager for Commerce Server 2000.

Next week iPlanet will unveil upgrades to its e-commerce applications that will integrate them with the company's infrastructure servers, such as Directory Server and Application Server. The applications are BuyerXpert, SellerXpert, BillerXpert, ECXpert, TradingXpert and Market Maker. The company also will add new customization features across the product line and enhance support for XML.

Company officials are being coy about the announcement, but say it will include a platform strategy that will finally tie together the company's lineup of e-commerce products. The platform will run on Sun Solaris.

Not to be left behind, IBM will upgrade the Start, Pro, Developer and Professional editions of WebSphere Commerce Suite. IBM officials would not comment on the impending shipment of the software, but a product review on the company's Web site listed many of the new features.

In Version 5.1, the common server runtime engine has been completely rewritten using a Java programming model, Java Server Pages and Enterprise JavaBeans. The previous runtime was written in C++. Also, the catalog system has been enhanced so users can group products and catalog entries. It also allows entries to be cross-referenced to support things such as cross-sells and up-sells.

The new software fine tunes role-based access controls and buyer-profile management. It also supports pricing in the currency and format applicable to the end user.

Version 5.1 adds support for the Oracle Corp.'s 8i database and will run on OS/400, OS/390, Linux, and Windows NT and 2000.

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