Microsoft Commerce Server Highlights Retail Show

CHICAGO (04/19/2000) - Microsoft Corp. took an opportunity at the Retail Systems 2000 Conference & Exposition here to tease its customers with a sneak peek of its new Commerce Server 2000.

The preview was one of the highlights of the show here, where a variety of vendors put the spotlight on new products aimed at helping top get retailers up and running on the Web (see below for details).

Microsoft is positioning the new Commerce Server, due out in beta later this week and in full release later in the year, as "the next evolution of Web server," according to Ernest Edward Mindlin, the company's "technical evangelist" for retail. "What this brings to the table is the ability to quickly generate business-to-consumer and business-to-business Web sites."

Commerce Server 2000, which fits into the company's DNA platform, offers users a wizard-driven Web site creation tools. It also offers templates to create e-commerce components such as catalogues, credit card payment systems and online auctions.

Microsoft is positioning the product as a "complementary product" to BizTalk Server 2000, its XML-based back end integration solution.

"It is the other part of a business to supplier solution," said Mindlin. "It integrates with BizTalk Server 2000 to do e-procurement. It completes the closed-loop merchandising cycle."

So far the only database that Commerce Server 2000 is designed to work with is SQLServer 2000, but Mindlin said that is only because the product is so early in its development cycle. As the product matures, "one should be able to integrate it with any ODBC-compliant database without too manyheadaches," he said.

Besides showing off Commerce Server, Microsoft offered attendees what it called "the first public display" of BizTalk Server 2000, which is already in beta release, and released its first four Retail Business Information schemas (RBIs): Sales Transaction, Time and Attendance, Pricing and Item,and Payment.

The schemas were designed under the BizTalk framework (www.biztalk.org) and the ActiveStore retail technology architecture, which is the Microsoft-led initiative to develop data and information exchange standards and promote line-of-business integration within the retail industry. Other RBIs beingdeveloped include Customer, Inventory, Financial, and Signage.

Also on the Microsoft horizon is the release of the OPOS 1.5 (OLE for Point of Sale) specification at the end of May. This specification is supported by 200 industry vendors and is designed to provide unified, plug and play capabilities for POS devices.

Reaction from Microsoft customers to the company's direction and initiatives seemed positive.

"We were really excited by Commerce Server," said Richmond, British Columbia-based Dick Vollet, general manger of retail operations for London Drugs Ltd. London Drugs is a chain of pharmacies located in Western Canada that combines traditional drug dispensing along with computer and home electronics sales and upscale cosmetics retailing.

According to Vollet, the attractiveness of the BizTalk initiative is that it keeps the retailer from being tied to one vendor for an entire solution. "It allows us to use best-of-breed solutions -- to a point."

Glenn Wood, general manager of information services at Brewers Retail Inc., also likes what he sees from the Microsoft offerings. Mississauga, Ontario-based Brewers Retail, through its 427 The Beer Store locations, is responsible for distributing and retailing beer throughout the province.

"I like the redundancy in Commerce Server and Windows 2000 -- the failover and the stability," Wood said. "That's what a retailer needs. Commerce Server looks like it will get transaction Web sites up in a hurry. BizTalk Server is definitely heading in the right direction, as the proliferation of productsin the market continues," said Wood.

Besides the Microsoft announcements, a number of other companies released new products and offerings during the show. The following are a brief sampling of some of the new releases:

--Connected Merchant from STS Systems Inc. in Pointe-Claire, Quebec -- a multichannel (both bricks and mortar and online) merchandise management system comprised of three components: MerchantWorks for managing supply-chain logistics, pricing, stock ledger and invoice reconciliation; MerchantView for decision support; and Warehouse Management. The company can be reached at http://www.stssystems.com/, or +1-514-426-0822.

--SKUfinder.com 1.7 from 1-800-Database Ltd. in Norcross, Georgia -- a search engine that permits businesses to search the Web for product images and information by UPC, manufacturer item number, brand name, category or description. Http://www.skufinder.com/; http://www.1-800-database.com/; +1-800-DATABASE.

-- Informix i.Sell WAP on Solaris from Informix Corp. -- an i.Sell module that permits customers to use mobile phones to browse online catalogues, purchase goods and services and perform order tracking by delivering content based on the specific wireless device. Http://www.informix.com/.

-- Spotlight Markdown Optimizer from Spotlight Solutions Inc. in Cincinnati -- algorithm-based software that helps companies automate the pricing and marking down of merchandise by analyzing sales, and inventory data.

Http://www.spotlightsolutions.com/. +1-513-985-9525.

--Csoft iPos 1.0 from Csoft International in Wake Forest, North Carolina -- a product suite designed provide a single, Internet-based system for both bricks and mortar and online sales transactions, including iSite for Internet purchasing, iKiosk for self-service, in-store terminal, iPda for mobile device-based sales, iCatalog, and iPos. Http://www.csoftinternational.com/; +1-9190-556-1816.

--OmniCommerce from NSB Inc. in Columbus, Ohio -- a framework for extending store functionality, such as order tracking, price scanning and order fulfillment beyond point of sale devices to kiosks, hand-held terminals, and Web sites through browser-based applications. http://www.nsbretailsystems.com/; +1-614-840-400.

--WebSTORE from International Computers Ltd. (ICL) in Dallas -- a browser-based solution for both Windows NT and Linux, that integrates online and in-store customer relationship management systems using handheld devices, thin clients or point of sale terminals. Http://www.icl.com/; +1-972-716-8300.

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