(Not so) crazy Microsoft rumors: Microsoft to unload Commerce Server

Microsoft has been mum about its Commerce Server product plans for the past several months. Maybe it's because Microsoft is about to hand off the platform to one of its reseller partners.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It’s been a while since I blogged about another of my (not so) crazy Microsoft rumors. Here’s the latest, plus the ground rules for those weighing how believable this information may or may not be.

As part of my job as a full-time Microsoft watcher, I get a lot of tips about Microsoft from customers, competitors, partners and even some Softies themselves. However, ever since I worked for PCWeek as a reporter close to 20 years ago, I had it drilled into my head that until I could get three independent sources to corroborate a tip — none of whom was repeating something s/he heard in an echo chamber -- I couldn’t run it as a story.

These days, I see lots of single-sourced tips being posted by bloggers and journalists. More than a few of these are based on a single, anonymous source, with no further identification to help readers decide whether a tip is likely to be true or not. No “according to a Microsoft partner who requested anonymity.” No “so says a small-business customer angry over the latest slip-up, who asked not to be identified.” Not even a thinly veiled “according to a person who was not authorized to speak for Company X” (but did so anyway).

This lack of attribution made me crazy — and gave me a maybe-not-so-crazy idea. A year or so ago, inspired by the “CrazyAppleRumors” folks, I bought the “CrazyMicrosoftRumors” domain name. I’m using it for a series of occasional posts here on “All About Microsoft,” where I’ll take a single-sourced tip that I can’t find two other independent sources to verify and run it as a “rumor.”

I’m not going to do this with just any old tip; I am going to pick and choose ones where I have faith in the tipster’s batting average and/or believe the tip makes a lot of sense. I will clearly label these posts as “(Not so) Crazy Microsoft Rumors,” so readers know exactly what they’re getting.

If you want to send along any rumor candidates, just use the e-mail form at the bottom of my blog. All tips I receive are considered confidential, so don’t worry about including your real name (if you want to do so).

And with that… on to today’s tip/rumor.

It's been a while since Microsoft officials have said anything about the company's Commerce Server product. It's not because no one has asked. A few of my roadmap-loving readers have asked me what's going on with Commerce Server -- Microsoft's e-commerce server with hooks into SharePoint and BizTalk. In turn, I've asked Microsoft repeatedly over the past few months. The answer, each time, was that the company had nothing more to share at this time (beyond this statement) about Commerce Server futures.

Among my questions: Will there be another release after Commerce Server 2009 R2, which Microsoft seemingly released in September 2011?  (I say "seemingly" because there doesn't seem to have been any official Microsoft announcement.) Will Microsoft be giving Commerce Server the cloud treatment, since company brass have said Microsoft plans to deliver cloud-hosted versions of all of the company's products, going forward? Or does the Online Service Delivery Platform (OSDP) that Microsoft is building to support its Office 365 bundle -- one element of which is a shared commerce infrastructure -- count (in Softies' minds) as the "cloudy" version of Commerce Server?

Happily, one trusted source, a long-time Commerce Server collaborator, recently came forward offering to fill the Commerce Server information void.

My contact said that Microsoft officials decided Commerce Server didn't really fit into the company's "all cloud" roadmap and has decided to offload the product. He said Microsoft has come to an agreement with Ascentium -- a Bellevue, Wash.-based digital agency that recently bought Cactus Commerce -- via which Commerce Server will be now a fully Ascentium-owned Product.

The tipster said that the last Microsoft-owned Commerce Server SKU will be Commerce Server 2009 R2, which Microsoft will support until 2014. The official announcement on all this will happen before the end of calendar 2011, my contact said.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft officials again denied comment when I asked. The Ascentium folks referred me to Cactus Commerce for comment, but so far, there's been no response from that company, either.

If and when Microsoft does pass the Commerce Server baton to Ascentium/Cactus, it won't be too surprising.

According to the Cactus Web site, Cactus is a leading Microsoft Commerce Server partner and has been working hand-in-hand with Microsoft on BizTalk Server and Commerce Server since 2000. In 2007, Cactus began "to strategically collaborate with the Commerce Server Product Unit, bringing product innovation and subject matter expertise in e-commerce and digital marketing to the partnership," according to the Cactus site. And Cactus Executive Vice President Ryan Donovan, a former Microsoft Product Unit Manager in Developer Division and former lealder in the Microsoft Commerce Server business unit, helped establish the joint Microsoft-Cactus partnership.

Update (November 11): Chalk one up for my well-informed tipster. Microsoft is now confirming this is not a rumor and is, in fact, happening. Here's what a company spokesperson just sent me:

  • Microsoft will be transitioning future product development of Commerce Server, to its partner Ascentium.
  • Microsoft will continue to honor mainstream and extended support of Commerce Server 2009 through 2014 and 2019, respectively.
  • Microsoft will not release future versions of Commerce Server, but Commerce Server 2009 R2 will continue to be part of Microsoft’s official price list until July 2012; Ascentium will take responsibility for future versions of the Commerce Server product.
  • Both companies are working closely together to facilitate a smooth transition plan with customers.

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