REDMOND, WASHINGTON (08/04/2000) - Microsoft Corp. is finally ready to test a document management and collaboration server that has been in development for more than a year, but the software is likely to leave IT executives scratching their heads over when and where to use it.
This fall, Microsoft will release a beta version of a server code-named Tahoe, which will provide simple document management features for users of Office 2000. Enterprise users also will be able to build collaborative applications on Tahoe.
But some of Tahoe's features overlap with those in Exchange 2000 and Office Server Extensions, and IT executives will have to carefully evaluate where to use each product.
Exchange 2000 is Microsoft's enterprise messaging and collaboration server.
Office Server Extensions add document sharing and Web publishing capabilities to Office 2000.
"Tahoe is pretty flimsy in its product positioning," says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies in Kirkland, Wash. "To have the scope of its functionality in a single server is confusing."
Microsoft is touting Tahoe as a department-level server for document sharing and an enterprisewide intranet portal that can index documents on file servers, Web servers and other data sources across a company.
Some observers say Tahoe proves that Microsoft has yet to figure out how to position itself in the collaboration market, where it is battling other firms, including Lotus, which this fall is expected to ship a collaboration server called Raven.
Tahoe and Exchange 2000, whose delivery date has slipped to early fall, have a file store called the Web Storage System (WSS), which can house multiple file formats and is accessible through a variety of interfaces.
WSS is being hailed as Exchange's most significant new feature, allowing users to develop applications on top of it much like users of Lotus Notes do with Domino.
But WSS also is a cornerstone of Tahoe, and Microsoft says companies can develop collaborative applications on Exchange or Tahoe.
"Your scenario will dictate whether you use Exchange or Tahoe," says Chris Baker, product manager for Exchange. "If you want an application available across the enterprise you'll probably look at Exchange because of its replication features."
But observers say Tahoe is no more than Microsoft's entry into document management.
If Tahoe is considered as a department-level server to manage documents, users also will be able to use Office Server Extensions. The extensions let workgroups edit, annotate and create discussion threads within documents stored on a Web server. Users can view, search and retrieve documents stored on those servers.
Some say the versatility of WSS may be creating the confusion around Tahoe.
"The Web store is extremely flexible and can be used to build separate products around it," says Greg Scott, IS manager for Oregon State University College of Business. Scott has been testing Exchange 2000 for more than two years. "There could be a market for document management where users don't want to deploy Exchange," he says.