October 14, 1998 3:45 PM PDT

Microsoft merges the office

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DENVER--Integration and Microsoft may be dirty words in the halls of government, but not here.

Executives from the software giant continued to hint today that previously separate client and server system-based software packages will become increasingly close in the coming years, the latest sign that the company intends to plow ahead in its bid to conquer new markets.

The company's colossal success with its accompanying Office suite of client-side applications, such as Word and PowerPoint, belies the fact that Microsoft has yet to make a serious dent with its accompanying BackOffice suite of software.

Though news of a friendlier relationship between Office, long a Redmond cash cow, and BackOffice, an emerging threat in the server-side application market, is hardly a news flash given previous pronouncements, the extent to which Microsoft executives said they will hinge their corporate application strategy on the two software suites was striking.

"Office and BackOffice together are becoming a platform in and of itself," said Brian Valentine, general manager of Microsoft's applications and tools group, during a speech to developers today.

BackOffice continues to gain momentum largely as a result of the popularity of Windows NT, a client and server-based operating system intended for corporations. Version 4.5 of BackOffice is currently being readied for release as an interim upgrade before the company launches an all-out assault with another release due soon after the shipment of version 5.0 of NT, now expected in the second half of next year.

Recently crowned president Steve Ballmer has stressed a so-called solutions-oriented approach to selling the company's software to corporations, tailoring its applications for different markets. Yet Microsoft remains relatively inexperienced in providing back-end software for companies. And, according to some, its "Windows everywhere" bent could rankle potential customers who have a variety of choices for server software, including options from the likes of IBM and Oracle.

"Corporations are increasingly getting the sense that Microsoft is building an environment that can lock them in," noted Dwight Davis, analyst with technology consultants Summit Strategies. "The more Microsoft facilitates the connection between Office and BackOffice, the harder it gets to break out of that linkage."

Valentine stressed forthcoming collaborative technologies that will emerge with the release of the Office 2000 upgrade. He also noted that integration between elements of Microsoft's client and server software was inevitable, highlighting the potential to share information using Web technologies. He also demonstrated a universal messaging technology for Exchange that will allow a user to access his email via a telephone.

Of course, the company's software plans continue to co-exist with the ongoing legal case brought by numerous states and federal regulators that hinges on Microsoft's strategy to integrate its browsing software into its Windows operating system.

 

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