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Microsoft Lays Out Portal Roadmap

Microsoft this week said the next versions of its SharePoint portal and collaboration products will ship in 2003 and will include tight integration with the Microsoft .NET Framework and Microsoft's other server software.

SharePoint Portal Server is the portal and collaboration software also known by the codename "Tahoe" that shipped in March 2001 as one of the final additions to the .NET Enterprise Server family that includes SQL Server, Exchange Server and other products. At the time, Microsoft also released SharePoint Team Services for team-based collaboration in Office and Exchange.

This week, Microsoft is referring to the two SharePoints together as SharePoint Products and Technologies, but the company plans to ship them with the same names in 2003 that they had in 2001.

Meanwhile, Microsoft took the opportunity of the roadmap announcement at the Delphi Group's Spring Enterprise Portal and Web Services conference to discuss momentum for the products, saying corporations set up tens of thousands of SharePoint Team Services sites in the year since the launch and bought 3 million SharePoint Portal Server seats. That compares with company estimates of about 100 million Exchange seat licenses.

Ferris Research, an analyst firm specializing in messaging and collaboration, notes a subtle shift in marketing this time around. According to a Ferris Research bulletin on Microsoft's announcements, there is a greater emphasis this time on SharePoint Team Services than in the original launch when the portal server got most of the attention.

"During the past 12 months, team workspace offerings from other vendors have matured and stimulated interest in enterprise accounts, and Microsoft is now actively focused on this area," Ferris Research analyst Michael Sampson says in the bulletin.

Even as the emphasis on Team Services increases, Microsoft is maintaining some ambiguity about its direction on collaboration with SharePoint and Exchange each featuring some overlapping functionality while Microsoft has also invested in a third-party collaboration software provider, Groove Networks, Sampson notes.

The new 2003 ship date is a slip from promises of a 2002 general availability that came as recently as earlier this year. However, much of the next version of the portal server depends on integration with Windows .NET Server, which has also recently slipped into an early 2003 launch.

The roadmap also indicates that at least for the immediate future, Microsoft has no plans to roll SharePoint Portal Server into Content Management Server, a closely related product. Earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled an integration pack for the two products, and the company does promise tighter integration between them in the 2003 version of SharePoint.

One major new feature across the SharePoint line for 2003 is that it will use application server technologies in Windows .NET Server to deliver a "collaboration framework" based on Microsoft .NET, Microsoft says. The software giant also says the two SharePoints will be tightly integrated to provide a unified environment.

The next version of SharePoint Portal Server is supposed to scale better, be more customizable, handle information aggregation better and provide more advanced search capabilities. Enterprise application integration, a central feature of any enterprise portal solution, will come through integration with Microsoft BizTalk Server, creating yet another situation where key functionality of one .NET Enterprise Server depends on users' owning licensed copies of another Microsoft .NET Enterprise Server.

In Ferris Research's opinion, Microsoft's real competitive advantage in the broad portal field has less to do with the 2003 feature lineup than with recent licensing changes.

"Microsoft has included user access to SharePoint Portal Server and Team Services in its new licensing offer for enterprise users. This ties customers into Microsoft's future vision, and will dampen the market for competitive offerings. If an organization has already committed itself to Microsoft, why would it duplicate spending and purchase in best-of-breed components from competitive vendors?" Sampson says.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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