The Year Ahead: A BackOffice Technical Forecast

You will notice a difference in this issue’s Trials & Profiles department. Instead of a combination of Test Track, Hands On reviews and Product Profiles, ENT staff members and a few of our contributing editors took a looked closely at the components of Microsoft Corp.'s BackOffice Suite. The analysis is a foreshadowing of what the new year will bring to Redmond’s signature back office products.

In the four years since the BackOffice Suite was first released, several changes have taken place. The first version, for instance, ran on Windows NT 3.5 and consisted of SQL Server 4.21a, Microsoft Mail Server, Systems Management Server 1.0 and SNA Server. The only original component that didn’t survive, Microsoft Mail, was replaced by Exchange.

BackOffice Version 4.5, which will ship in the first quarter of this year, will include Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition, Internet Information Server 4.0, Windows NT Terminal Server Edition, Message Queue Server and Microsoft Transaction Server.

The suite itself is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Buying the shrink-wrapped suite, rather than buying the components individually -- price not withstanding -- offers more than merely a collection of components. For instance, the setup of components has been integrated to ease installation and deployment, and 20 wizards now do what more than 150 did in the past.

Other pieces of software that will also ship with the suite include Visual InterDev, FrontPage 98, Crystal Info 5.0 and an assortment of other Web-based tools. The Internet starter kit is designed to show how SQL Server can be configured to work with Site Server.

During 1999, Microsoft plans to continue to release revisions of the suite each time individual components are upgraded or patches and service packs are offered. But the biggest advance is expected midyear. Joel Sloss, a product manager, for BackOffice Server, says that shortly after Windows 2000 ships, so will version 5.0 of the BackOffice Suite.

The current theme in the BackOffice Suite is to improve management capabilities. Active Directory and the Microsoft Management Console, both of which will be included in Windows 2000, are topics you’ll see through many of these forecasts. Active Directory and the Microsoft Management Console are key players in both Windows 2000 and nearly every BackOffice component, so look for these products to not only be more tightly integrated, but to also be more manageable.

After reading the first of what will become our annual BackOffice Technical Forecast, I encourage you to drop me a line at sullivantp@entmag.com, and tell me what we can do to make this budding tradition more useful.