MS readies next-generation software

Windows 2000 may still be months away from shipment, but Microsoft already is laying the groundwork for next-generation applications it is developing for the platform.

Six months after Windows 2000 ships, Microsoft is aiming to deploy new knowledge management applications, code-named Tahoe and Polar Server. With the new offerings, Microsoft is aiming squarely at archrival Lotus Development, which unveiled its knowledge management strategy based on Notes/Domino and DB2 last summer, sources speculate.

Tahoe will be the successor to Site Server 3.0, according to sources close to the Microsoft. Site Server 3.0 is currently part of the BackOffice family of server applications. (A future version of Microsoft's Visual FoxPro tool is also code-named Tahoe, but the fact that two Microsoft products share a common code name is coincidental, sources say.)

Tahoe (the Site Server upgrade) will provide document management and search capabilities and will include features such as approval workflow; templated publishing; document versioning; XML support for indexing documents; and natural language processing, sources say.

Microsoft disclosed details of its Tahoe plans at the January Microsoft Technical Briefing 99 in Seattle, say sources. MTB 99 is a private annual briefing Microsoft holds for its own consultants, product managers and reseller partners.

MTB 99 attendees say that Microsoft intends to take its Site Server and Site Server Commerce Edition products in two divergent directions, and that Tahoe offers concrete evidence of this trend.

Tahoe also offers a glimpse into Microsoft's intended future directions for its MSN.Com portal technology, say sources. Tahoe will use a portal as a kind of "knowledge desktop," allowing developers, resellers and sophisticated end users to build their own intranet portals, as well as use Tahoe's search and document management services within those portals.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, Tahoe won't require the current or "Platinum" versions of Exchange to operate, nor will it require the use of Active Directory, the directory service around which Windows 2000 is built, say sources. Tahoe will allow users to search and store data in SQL Server or Platinum, depending on whether data is structured or unstructured, sources say.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on unannounced products or strategies. A spokeswoman did note that knowledge management is a key focal point for Microsoft and one of three areas on which the company is focusing as part of its Digital Nervous System effort.

Tahoe isn't Microsoft's only new BackOffice application on tap in the post-Windows 2000 timeframe, sources say. The company also is prepping another new server product code-named Polar Server, which is slated to include a subset of core Microsoft technologies found in SQL Server, Exchange Server and Tahoe, according to attendees of MTB 99. Polar is focused on aspects of knowledge management such as document tracking, collaboration and analysis, sources say. Polar may include SQL Server-based workflow services, code-named Grizzly, sources add.

Like Tahoe, Polar is part of Microsoft's strategy to more closely integrate its Office and BackOffice products, sources say. Tahoe will offer users capabilities beyond the Office Server Extensions that are part of Office 2000, Microsoft's next-generation Office suite due to ship in the next month or two. Polar, too, will offer another point of integration for Office and BackOffice, sources say.

As Microsoft expands further the domain of its BackOffice family, it will likely face public and private criticisms that it is encroaching further on markets it previously had left to its document-management and knowledge-management partners. Says one source close to the company: "Microsoft will have to face charges that here it goes again stepping on its partners' toes."