New Century, New OS, New BackOffice Suite

I remember seeing Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot in a small, dark theater in New York’s Greenwich Village when I was in high school.

The play’s central characters, Vladimir and Estragon, hang around on a country road under a tree, hoping Godot will show -- but he never gets there. Spending the better part of 1999 waiting for Windows 2000 reminded me of the play.

The BackOffice team, which congregates on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus, also spent the year waiting for Windows 2000. All the while, the BackOffice team had to hold off on polishing its own suite until Windows 2000 was finished. Unlike Vladimir and Estragon, though, the BackOffice team knew that Windows 2000 was coming, but for most of the year it was a matter of when.

Now we all know it will arrive next month. Coincidentally, it’s time for our Second Annual BackOffice Technical Forecast. In the pages that comprise our Trials & Profiles department this issue, we disected the suite into individual components to investigate what to expect from each product in the coming year. Some products will be overhauled significantly; others may not even see as much as a dot release this year. But there will be a new suite.

In last year’s BackOffice Technical Forecast, we reported that another version of the suite, most likely to be version 5.0, would ship shortly after the launch of Windows 2000.

In a meeting on the Redmond campus, Joel Sloss, product manager for BackOffice, said it was too early to discuss the name of the suite’s next version.

I’ll go out on a limb, however, and speculate that opting for the moniker BackOffice 2000 instead of BackOffice 5.0 would certainly be in line with Microsoft's recent naming trend: Windows 2000, Windows DNA 2000, SQL Server 2000, Exchange Server 2000, and Office 2000.

When we spoke with Microsoft at the end of 1998 to forecast the BackOffice Suite for 1999, the company planned to add Visual InterDev, FrontPage 98, Crystal Info 5.0, and an Internet starter kit designed to show how SQL Server can be configured to work with Site Server. Also, the software giant said that 20 wizards would be able to do what more than 150 wizards did in the past.

In addition to the extra products and wizards, Sloss says we should expect five or six pieces of software from ISVs in the pending version.

The most significant theme of the suite remains the same this year as it was last year: management. Active Directory and the Microsoft Management Console will be key facets of Windows 2000 and the BackOffice components.

Microsoft made some major announcements during the year regarding new initiatives, such as Knowledge Management, the Digital Dashboard, and the company’s new mantra of "anytime, anywhere" access to data via a variety of devices. All of which will be reflected in the next version of BackOffice.

A new theme this time around is interoperability. Microsoft added its Windows NT Services for Unix 2.0, which was an add-on pack for Windows NT 4.0, to the Windows 2000 operating systems. Customers buying the next version of BackOffice will get that in the box, too.

With February 17, 2000, slated as the arrival date of Windows 2000, Sloss says that the next BackOffice suite will ship sometime in the second half of this year.

Details about what to expect from the BackOffice Suite’s individual components, and how the arrival of Windows 2000 will affect them, can be found in our BackOffice Technical Forecast.