Site Server's One-Stop Shop


John Swenson
MSDN Online

April 27, 1998

If you thought you knew about every important Microsoft product but hadn't heard much about Microsoft® Site Server, don't feel bad. Microsoft didn't make a big splash about this package of Web-site tools and services until Site Server version 3.0 was announced at January's Web TechEd conference.

"Web TechEd was like our coming-out party for Site Server," recalls James Gwertzman, a lead program manager and one of the first members of the Site Server team. "In some ways, I feel like we were the biggest stealth project at Microsoft. A lot of people hadn't even heard of Site Server until January."

Microsoft definitely isn't being quiet about Site Server anymore. Version 3.0 is a major upgrade that adds "huge new functionality," according to Doug Bayer, group manager of the Site Server team.

What's in the Package?

Site Server 3.0 provides a structured process for submitting, posting, and approving content. It lets users search for information stored in a variety of sources including Web sites, file servers, Microsoft Exchange folders, and Microsoft SQL Server and ODBC databases. It makes information relevant by personalizing pages. And it lets administrators analyze site usage.

Specifically, Site Server 3.0 includes:

  • Microsoft FrontPage® and Visual InterDev™.
  • Customizable sample sites.
  • Content management and deployment tools.
  • An enterprise search server.
  • Knowledge Manager—an end-user application for finding information and receiving updates.
  • Push support.
  • Personalization and membership services.
  • User, usage, and content analysis tools.

One-Stop Development

Site Server 3.0, Microsoft's new intranet server, runs on top of Microsoft Windows NT® Server version 4.0 and Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) version 4.0. It contains nearly everything developers need to build sophisticated Web sites and Web applications.

"Our vision is basically to make Site Server your one-stop shop for building Web sites," Bayer says. "All the pieces you need to build a complete Web application are there."

Site Server 3.0 adds to IIS 3.0 a large number of ready-to-go services. With Site Server 3.0, you don't have to build your Web sites from scratch.

Streamlining and Organizing

A big aim of Site Server 3.0 is to help organizations share information better. Whether you're building a new Web application, migrating an old application to the Web, or adding new capabilities to your existing Web site, Site Server 3.0 helps streamline the information-sharing process. It's designed to make it easier to submit, approve, and deploy new Web content.

Web sites built with Site Server 3.0 use a four-step publishing process—content submission, tagging, editor approval, and deployment. This helps organizations keep their content under control and up-to-date. Streamlining the publishing process isn't all Site Server 3.0 does, however.

Search, Personalize, and More

Site Server 3.0 also allows any organization using Windows NT Server to build an intranet with powerful search capabilities. Users can go to a single search site to hunt for information across the entire organization, searching every departmental server, for example. Site Server 3.0 can do more than just search databases, though. It can also search public folders in Exchange Server, a feature which is turning out to be one of its most popular capabilities.

Organizations can also use Site Server 3.0 to add sophisticated personalization features to their Web sites, giving every user information tailored to his or her own needs and interests.

Site Server 3.0 is aimed primarily at professional developers, but there are tools within Site Server that also allow Web authors to build custom applications without any programming.

Designed for Developers

Developers with programming skills can take advantage of the most powerful features in Site Server 3.0. For example, they can use the new Microsoft ActiveX® User Object (AUO) framework in Site Server 3.0 to customize and personalize Web content for their users. This new AUO API set allows developers to access the information they need from users in order to add these new capabilities to their Web applications.

AUO is just one new object in Site Server 3.0. Developers also can tap into a plethora of other objects in Site Server and use them to extend their Web sites.

Site Server 3.0 is an all-in-one solution for developers who want to build intranets, develop Web applications, publish information, and provide users with powerful tools to search that information.

Site Server 3.0 even comes with other Microsoft Web development tools such as FrontPage 98 and Visual InterDev. Site Server Commerce Edition includes additional tools for tasks such as analyzing ad traffic on commercial Internet sites.

Internet or Intranet—Your Choice

Such a comprehensive intranet server hasn't been available until now. That's led many companies to try to roll their own Web sites, Bayer says, using a mixture of off-the-shelf tools and custom software such as Perl scripts and CGI scripts. A lot of companies that try this approach eventually become disillusioned when they discover how much maintenance these custom Web sites require, he says. That's a problem Site Server 3.0 was designed to solve, by offering organizations a single product that contains everything they need to build and maintain their Web sites.

Site Server is part of the Microsoft BackOffice® family of server products. It didn't begin life as an intranet server, Bayer says. Way back in the old days of the Web (two or three years ago) when Microsoft started developing Site Server, the company wanted to make it the best product for building Internet Web sites. But with the rising importance of intranets, Microsoft shifted focus and decided to make Site Server its premier intranet server.

Today, Site Server 3.0 is equally well suited for building either Internet or intranet Web sites. But Microsoft is positioning Site Server 3.0 primarily as a tool for building intranets and knowledge-management solutions, Bayer says. The publishing, search, and knowledge-management features in Site Server are aimed mainly at intranet development, while the content deployment features are focused mainly on Internet development.

Integration with IIS and Windows NT

Site Server 3.0 comes in two versions: the standard edition and a Commerce Edition with added features for building large commercial Web sites tailored for conducting online business. Integration with IIS and Windows NT Server is a key feature of both editions. Site Server is so tightly coupled with IIS, in fact, that some of its components are actually services within IIS.

Integrating Site Server with both Windows NT Server 4.0 and the forthcoming Windows 2000 Server has been a goal of the Site Server team since Day One, Bayer says. Site Server works well with Windows NT 4.0 today, but it will really shine when used with Windows 2000. That's because Site Server 3.0 and Windows 2000 share a unified architecture that will allow Site Server to leverage key Windows 2000 features, such as the Active Directory for adding personalization, member management, and similar features to Web sites.

A Fundamental Redesign

One reason it took the Site Server team nearly one and a half years to complete version 3.0 is because the new version adds more than just extra features. "We've done some fundamental work on integration [with IIS and Windows NT Server] and redesigning the architecture for this release, particularly in the area of personalization and membership," Bayer says.

For example, Site Server 2.0 had a system for managing user properties and preferences. But it hardly compares to the sophisticated authentication system in Site Server 3.0, which uses an LDAP directory service and an extension to the Windows NT security authentication system.

Personalization is the other big addition to Site Server 3.0. Some developers think adding personalization to a Web site is a novel idea, but it's really nothing new, says Gwertzman, a lead program manager on the personalization features in Site Server 3.0. Lots of developers add personalization to their desktop applications.

Every time developers ask users to enter a name during installation or allow users to customize the user interface, they're personalizing their applications. Site Server lets developers do the same with Web sites, which are becoming more like applications as sites grow more sophisticated, Gwertzman says.

With Site Server 3.0, Microsoft is providing developers with the tools to personalize these new Web applications, the same way they've always personalized their desktop applications.

Reaching a New Class of PC Users

What drove the Site Server team to totally redesign version 2.0 and work so hard on version 3.0? To Bayer, it was the knowledge that millions of people will use Web applications built with Site Server 3.0. That includes many people who have no experience using traditional applications and who will take their first computer steps on the Web. Tools such as Site Server 3.0 will help developers create Web applications that open up computing to a whole new class of users, Bayer says.

"We're still just at the beginning" of the Internet explosion, he says. "Innovation is happening at a rate we haven't seen probably since Windows version 3.1 changed the desktop. This is a very exciting time."