October 7, 2002 5:17 AM PDT

Microsoft readies new Web services tool

Microsoft plans to add to its arsenal of Web services tools on Monday, when the company officially unveils Content Management Server 2002.

The new product is the third released this year aimed at aligning companies doing business over the Internet with Microsoft's .Net Web services strategy. The new product accompanies BizTalk Server 2002, Commerce Server 2002--both released this year--and SharePoint Portal Server 2001. But the linchpin for all the products is the delayed Windows .Net Server 2003. Microsoft is expected to issue a second .Net Server 2003 release candidate, or nearly final version, as early as Tuesday.

Microsoft is scheduled to formally announce Content Management Server 2002 at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Anaheim, Calif., where the company also plans to reveal more details about the next versions of Outlook and Exchange.

Microsoft released a test version of Content Management Server 2002 in July. A month later, the Redmond, Wash.-based company zapped three security bugs affecting the new version's predecessor. Microsoft's product competes with Web content management software from Documentum, Interwoven and Vignette, among others.

Web-based content-management tools typically help businesses home in on customer preferences and, among other things, customize the content for specific visitors. Server-based products from Microsoft and its competitors also enable businesses to create and maintain content-based Web sites.

One of the most important changes adds support for Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is kin to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the longstanding standard for creating Web pages. XML is at the core of Microsoft's Web services strategy and beyond. The next version of Microsoft's desktop productivity package--code-named Office 11--relies heavily on XML as a data format and also as a hook to additional Web-based products and services.

Keeping with Microsoft's longstanding practice of tightly tying products together, the new product supports the Visual Studio .Net suite of software development tools and the .Net Framework, which automates many development tasks and helps software run across multiple Windows-based servers and PCs. Microsoft last month added .Net Framework support to Windows XP with the release of Service Pack 1. Another important new feature would allow companies to publish content directly from Word. Microsoft is expect to expand the capability when Office 11 is released, tentatively in mid 2003.

Microsoft may have aptly timed the delivery of a cohesive suite of products for serving up and managing content, analysts say. Businesses are increasingly looking for ways to wring more productivity out of employees and more sales from customers through managed content available on corporate Intranets. At the same time, consumers are increasingly willing to pay for content served up on the Web.

After years of giving away content, many businesses are increasingly charging for some information and services. An August study conducted by the Online Publishers Association and ComScore found that consumers spent $300 million for online content during the first quarter, a 155 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. In the United States during the first quarter, 12.4 million people paid for online content, mostly in the form of subscriptions, up 5.3 million from a year earlier. In a dramatic increase, 9.2 percent of the total Internet population paid for content--mostly business, entertainment or personals and dating--versus 5.3 percent a year earlier.

Jupiter Research found that households with three years of broadband access and some type of wireless are the most likely to pay for online content. In fact, in general, broadband households are 75 percent more likely than those with dialup connections to pay for online content. Jupiter predicated that by 2003 one-third of all online consumers would be willing to pay for content.

Of the different content consumers would be most likely pay, digital entertainment--downloading videos, watching streaming videos or downloading music--stood out from the rest, Jupiter reported. At the same time, consumers are disgruntled with delivery mechanisms. Jupiter also found that 29 percent of consumers wired for Internet access would stop streaming during the next three months, because of long wait times. Still, nearly one half of wired consumers stream content at least monthly and 71 percent use streaming.

Forrester ranked financial tasks behind digital media, followed by publishing personal Web pages as the content consumers would be most likely to pay for.

Still, to get the most out of Content Management Server, businesses typically would need to use other Microsoft server products, Forrester noted. Microsoft, for example, is positioning SharePoint Portal Server as an important companion to Content Management Server. Portal software is a hot commodity among businesses looking to boost productivity by sharing information. The software lets companies create Web pages--or portals--that offer their employees, customers or business partners a single point for accessing vital information typically stored in a mishmash of disparate human resources systems or sales databases.

Content Management Server 2002 will retail for $42,000 per processor. Companies running multi-processor servers could pay considerably more for the product. Microsoft said the software would be generally available by the end of the year.

 

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