What Makes Commerce Server Look Like the Released Product, Site Server Look Like the Beta
Clearly, Microsoft is implementing the lessons learned from Site Server and bringing them to Commerce Server. The following section provides a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of Microsoft's latest Commerce Server implementation.
Commerce Server has several approaches to handling personalization through its Profile System. This system uses inputs from several sources, can be lengthy to set up and use, at times needs work to keep current, but overall it is worth the effort to get up and running. The Profile System gathers data from various sources to create profiles for users, orders, or other business groups. The Targeting System provides a means for delivering content that is relevant to the visitor and customer at your site. I found that the Targeting System could handle the following tasks in the controlled environment I tested it in:
Cross-selling and recommendation of new products that matched profiles from third-p-arty applications used for driving tests of personalization
Content selection framework reflected the diverse data set used for the test
List Manager works with SQL-based data, yet does struggle to get down-rev Oracle data through ODBC connections
Initial XML support looks good, yet it is only there for the .NET integration. Third-party XML integration was difficult to get to work with other applications.
Catalog management and analytics are now at competitive parity relative to other companies in this segment. These competitors include BroadVision and Blue Martini.
Despite all the praise this article seems to be heaping on Commerce Server over Site Server, there are still major limitations in Microsoft's latest bid to get into the sell-side of the market. Let's get to the technical issues first, and then the broader marketing ones.
The Content Connector looks good on paper and makes sense, yet when it comes to taking third-party data sets from Oracle, this connector would rather see SQL data, as the tests for this article showed. The simple ODBC connections are not enough to get all the specifics of Oracle data into the Data Warehouse that Commerce Server uses for completing campaigns and personalization. At the end of the tests, it was clear that Commerce Server, like Content Management Server, prefers from an architectural standpoint to see a Microsoft database product in the process workflow for best results.
Bringing in Web sites not created in Site Server or any other Microsoft product is very difficult to do and requires translation into a format that can work with Commerce Server 2000.
Migration from Site Server of the transaction elements did not work. Thankfully, the revised pipeline technology that is in Commerce Server made replicating transaction flows easier than it was in Site Server.
BizTalk Server incompatibilitiesthere were definite incompatibilities between Commerce Server 2000 and BizTalk Server, so much so that the initial install would not work until a patch was downloaded.
Too much reliance on Active Server Pages for many sites, which can get confusing at times if you are not completely familiar with ASP programming concepts on Microsoft platforms.
Despite claims that Commerce Server 2000 can work in both B2B and B2C environments, its clear that this latest release from Microsoft is best used in a B2C environment. There's nothing wrong with that; yet there is if you purchase this and think you are going to do B2B with it. If you are going down that path, realize that a BizTalk Server license is in your future because you'll have to have an EDI-to-XML link.