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-- by Joseph C. Panettieri
Microsoft is about to remodel BackOffice. Sources say the company is preparing several new variations of its server software suite to target different customer sets, including small businesses and intranet users.
BackOffice is a single box packed with Microsoft's leading server software, including NT Server, Internet Information Server, FrontPage, Index Server, Systems Management Server, SNA Server, SQL Server, Exchange Server and Proxy Server.
In its current format, BackOffice suffers from at least two major shortcomings. First, it often lacks Microsoft's latest product releases. For instance, Exchange Server 5.0 will have been shipping for several months before it replaces version 4.0 in the suite. Second, Microsoft now offers too many server applications to be included in BackOffice; the company's new Merchant Server and Conference Server are part of the BackOffice product family but are not part of the BackOffice software suite.
Enter the new bundles, which will complement-rather than replace-the current BackOffice suite and target different customer sets. Microsoft will not officially confirm or deny the new suites, but a spokesperson for the company says NT Enterprise Edition is "headed down the right path."
One suite under consideration is an intranet bundle that might include NT Server, Internet Information Server (IIS), Proxy Server and SQL Server. Microsoft is also preparing to integrate Microsoft Transaction Server (MTA) with IIS.
There's even scuttlebutt about Microsoft partnering with vertical market software providers. For instance, a maker of healthcare applications could sell a Windows NT/healthcare bundle.
Another new BackOffice suite, called the Commercial Internet System, should be available by the time you read this. It's positioned for Internet service providers, and includes Microsoft Commercial Internet Mail Server, Commercial Internet News Server, Membership System, Content Replication System, Personalization System, Conference Server and Merchant Server.
If this "multi-suite" formula sounds familiar, it should: Microsoft uses a similar approach on the desktop, where it sells several variants of Office 97.