Microsoft to unveil knowledge plan - at last

With a 'working as one' theme, Microsoft will next month finally spell out its products and strategies for attacking the knowledge management market. The client/server-based strategy centers around the current version of Exchange, the next version -- which will contain Tahoe -- and the forthcoming Office 2000, which will serve as a knowledge management portal.

With a "working as one" theme, Microsoft will next month finally spell out its products and strategies for attacking the knowledge management market.

The client/server-based strategy centers around the current version of Exchange, the next version -- which will contain Tahoe -- and the forthcoming Office 2000, which will serve as a knowledge management portal.

Microsoft will position its knowledge management products primarily as add-on technologies to corporate users' existing desktop applications, eliminating the considerable expense of supporting multiple data infrastructures.

"Having a knowledge management infrastructure that is separate from the desktop applications infrastructure is really expensive," said Rich Tong, Microsoft vice president of Applications Product Management. "Most people already have the desktop infrastructure, so we are just giving them the front end."

This approach also allows companies to use a range of Microsoft and non-Microsoft products to create knowledge management systems. Company officials said one of the goals is to "take the wizardry" out of assembling such systems.

Microsoft, in its forthcoming knowledge management initiative scheduled for May 17, will promote the idea that sharing is productive, if not necessary, for companies to succeed in an increasingly Web-based competitive world.

"Everyone's job changes every two years, which means you can lose 50% of your knowledge every year," Tong said.

Several new features in the forthcoming Word 2000 position Office as a knowledge management portal. One is the Save As Web Page pull-down command, which allows users to post e-mail messages in HTML and tags them to Extensible Markup Language, or XML, then automatically indexes them. The goal is one-step Web publishing.

"We have eliminated the differences between file servers and e-mail servers. It is now all one technology," Tong said.

Tahoe, due in beta form in August, will be embedded in the next version of Exchange, code-named Platinum, giving Exchange capabilities such as indexing, advanced searching, and beefed-up storage.

"Exchange has been successful as a mail and messaging platform, but Microsoft hasn't really put its shoulder behind turning that into anything that would resemble knowledge management or collaboration. It isn't the main thrust of the company yet during 1999, but this is what you will see," said Eric Brown, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.

Windows NT and the existing version of Exchange already have built-in search and indexing features. Office 2000 will also have these capabilities built in, allowing a search launched from the desktop to make data located on multiple servers and desktops look like "one big hard drive," Tong said.

Third parties will figure heavily in Microsoft's knowledge management strategy. Business Engine recently released its Business Engine 5.3, an extension to Microsoft Project that lets users track an array of projects, costs, and workers.

Lotus is taking a very different approach, according to Brown, by positioning Notes as the application infrastructure that accesses all of the collaborative capabilities of a system, as well as the business logic and middleware systems.

"There's the danger in this emerging market that [a vendor] might be relabeling old dog food," said Scott Smith, managing principal for global knowledge management consulting and services for IBM Global Services.

Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., can be reached at www.microsoft.com. Business Engine, in San Francisco, can be reached at www.businessengine.com.

(Ted Smalley Bowen contributed to this article.)

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