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Exploring the Product Catalog System in Commerce Server 2000

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One of Site Server's greatest deficiencies was its lack of product catalog functionality. In commerce Server 2000, Microsoft attempts to solve this problem with the Product Catalog system, which relies heavily on SQL Server. In this article, the hands-on evaluation of the Product Catalog System is provided.
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In any Microsoft product, there is a definite tie-in to the strategic initiative of the company, which is .NET. As a result of this single-minded focus, it's no surprise to find that the Product Catalog System in Commerce Server 2000 relies heavily on the XML approach that Microsoft is taking as part of its .NET strategy. What's refreshing about the Product Catalog System is that the XML-based catalog updates and exchange of information do work with the recently acquired nCompass content management server titled Content Management Server 2001. The XML integration between the Product Catalog Management system and Content Management server does show promise for being able to deliver content directly to Commerce Server sites.

What Is the Product Catalog System?

The Product Catalog System is comprised of these following components:

  • Catalog Creation and Management—Much needed for handling the development of content for a CommerceServer Web site, this tool was created to make posting of content more efficient than was the case in Site Server. The hands-on tasks completed with this tool show it to be more effective than the SQL Server tools that were used in Site Server. Although this tool is a huge improvement for Microsoft, it still does not put Microsoft into the lead position in this marketplace. (See the discussion of what's happening from a competitive standpoint at the end of this article.)

  • Catalog Designer—Just as you would suspect from Microsoft, the Catalog Designer has a deceptively simple user interface that is easy to use, yet does not provide the depth of defining taxonomies for specific data sets and their relation to one another. Rather, this tool is useful for defining how specific data items are going to be shown online. It's very comparable to FrontPage in its navigation.

  • Catalog Editor—The nerve center of the Product Catalog System, the Catalog Editor provides for importing and exporting catalog content for catalogs included in the Product Catalog System. This is the utility that provides the SQL Server links to bring in data and export it. This is also the location of the ODBC drivers for bringing in third-party data sets as well. Admittedly, this is the application that needs the most work to get Microsoft into a more competitive parity position in the market.

  • Catalog Exchange—Entirely new to Commerce Server 2000, Catalog Exchange is the link to BizTalk Server. The intent of linking BizTalk Server to the Product Catalog System is the need for coordinating XML-based transactions that leverage off the contents of the catalogs. Microsoft has only a few customers using this combination today, so as more companies see these tools work together during the solutions launch in 4Q 2001, it is expected to see Catalog Exchange grow in popularity.

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