REDMOND, Wash., April 16, 2001 — With the Microsoft bCentral Commerce Manager Add-in for FrontPage available today, small businesses have a simple way to add e-commerce functionality to their Web sites based on Microsoft FrontPage. To learn more about what this add-in and service will mean for small businesses looking to establish a presence on the Web, PressPass recently spoke with Marcus Schmidt, Microsoft’s lead product manager for bCentral Commerce Manager, and Kelly Weadock, product manager for FrontPage.
PressPass: Why is this add-in significant for users of FrontPage?
Weadock: FrontPage has several solutions to address e-commerce needs; this new add-in is just one of them. But it’s one that right out of the gates is quick, easy and affordable. It gets people started with adding simple e-commerce functionality to their Web site, so it’s definitely something that many of our customers can get started with.
PressPass: Who gains the most benefit from the bCentral Commerce Manager Add-in for FrontPage?
Schmidt: The small business customers — people who just want to sell something on their Web site but, as Kelly says, want to do so quickly. They want an easy way to get started, and they don’t want to spend a lot of money. With this add-in, they can subscribe to a service, pay a low monthly fee and start selling products and services on their Web site — literally within minutes.
PressPass: What was the key benefit of the partnership between the Microsoft FrontPage team and the Microsoft bCentral small business service?
Weadock: We partnered with bCentral to create this add-in because adding e-commerce functionality to a Web site is very challenging, even for experienced developers. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that need to happen, like security, keeping track of products and managing orders. We’ve taken a lot of that difficulty out of the equation by creating this add-in to use the Commerce Manager service, so you can insert e-commerce functionality into your Web site straight from the FrontPage user interface. That’s something our customers have been asking for, and its right in line with what bCentral customers are looking for as well. We both have a large number of small business users in our customer base, so it was a nice fit.
Schmidt: When you want to do e-commerce on the Web, you first need to get a catalog of things that you want to sell, and you need to have shopping-cart functionality so people can gather things from the catalog and “check out.” It just so happens that bCentral was in the process of building a catalog and shopping-cart service, along with a broad set of e-commerce services, and these were a natural fit for the things Kelly was hearing from his customers. We were building them, they needed them, and it was just one of those nice synergistic things where two teams at Microsoft come together for the best interests of the customer.
PressPass: Are FrontPage and bCentral creating a total solution for small businesses?
Schmidt: It’s a total entry-level solution for small businesses wanting to build and sell things on a Web site. It might not be everything that they’ll want far into the future, but that’s another great thing about FrontPage and its set of partners — there are other solutions that can help customers as their needs grow.
PressPass: What if a customer or independent developer wants to expand or customize the solution?
Schmidt: bCentral recognizes that need, so we’re going to publish a software development kit that really opens up the way our service works. That way, other application providers and independent software vendors can build applications that are compatible with what we have in bCentral Commerce Manager, and we can help those customers migrate from our service to their service. A lot of these Microsoft partners are already saying, “Why don’t we just start building on top of Commerce Manager?” Instead of reinventing the wheel with the things that bCentral has already done, they’re focusing on adding extra levels of value for customers that have needs beyond the basics that we cover with the add-in.
Weadock: Many third-party independent software vendors have already developed higher-end e-commerce solutions that integrate with FrontPage. But with this new add-in, we feel that our partners can add more value. So as customers’ e-commerce needs change, they might want to look at one of the FrontPage partner products as well.
PressPass: How do you see the needs of small business owners evolving with increased dependence on the Internet?
Schmidt: Small businesses increasingly need to have a presence on the Web to serve and sell to their customers. A lot of them don’t want the Web to be the exclusive way that they sell to their customers, because they have an existing brick-and-mortar facility as well. But as more of their customers get on the Web to find a product or a specific service, they’ll lose those potential customers if they don’t have an online component. So small businesses today need to be on the Web, and they’re looking for easy ways to do that. And that’s where the combination of bCentral services and FrontPage really comes in: it gives them a super-easy way to get started.
Weadock: For any small business, the tradeoff is between how productive you’re going to be, what results you’re going to get, and the time and money it will take to get you there. The bCentral Commerce Manager Add-in for FrontPage addresses some of those concerns, and allows a business to get set up with e-commerce capabilities on the Web quickly, saving time and money and producing some great results. With this add-in, a smaller business can easily add e-commerce functionality to its Web site, while before, the site might have been limited to information only. It actually becomes a leveling force between a small business and a larger business. On the Web, you don’t necessarily know who’s a large business and who’s a small business, so it becomes the great equalizer between say your local florist shop and FTD.com.
PressPass: Can larger organizations use Commerce Manager Add-in?
Schmid t: It can support pretty large catalogs of products, but in terms of its inherent functionality, it was designed for the needs of the small- and medium-sized businesses. It doesn’t have some of the more sophisticated commerce features you might find in a product like Microsoft Commerce Server, which is the platform that larger organizations should use — along with FrontPage — for a complete e-commerce solution. But while bCentral Commerce Manager is targeted at small- and medium-sized businesses, fundamentally, it has a robust set of features. It allows you to grow along with it.
PressPass: What about Web marketplaces? Does this Add-in support that functionality?
Schmidt: The initial, basic service we’re offering to FrontPage customers is a version of Commerce Manager that helps them sell with FrontPage, and gives them a catalog that can contain only a certain number of products. We’re also offering an upgrade that lets customers go to a significantly larger number of products in their catalog, and that upgrade gives them the ability to sell those products to multiple marketplaces. Today, those Web marketplaces include bCentral marketplaces, MSN marketplaces, and in the near future we’ll be adding new sales channels like eBay. So the upgrade gives small businesses that much more reach. They’ve got their Web site and they also can get those same products, without re-entering any data, out into those Web marketplaces.
PressPass: Are more add-ins planned for FrontPage? Will you continue to look to bCentral for functionality, ideas and services?
Weadock: We’re always looking for ways to enhance the functionality of FrontPage, and there are some existing bCentral services that are designed to help Web sites become more successful. So I think across a broad set of fronts — commerce, customer management, driving traffic to your site — there are a lot of synergies already between what FrontPage is doing to help people build great Web sites and what bCentral is doing to help people run their businesses effectively on the Web.
Schmidt: Traffic Builder is one. Some of those Traffic Builder services are integrated into FrontPage 2002 through the Insert Web Component capability. bCentral Customer Manager actually has a downloadable Web page template that allows you to add a page to any FrontPage-based Web site that captures customer-contact information and customer inquiries, so you can keep track of what your customers are asking. Our teams have been working well together for the benefit of our customers, and we’ll continue to do that.
PressPass: Are there any plans to expand these services internationally?
Schmidt: FrontPage already has great international support. It comes in 26 languages and has Unicode support, but we need to add capability into the bCentral services to make them available in the appropriate geographic areas. bCentral is available in a few other countries, but this specific service is not. The service needs to handle local currencies, local taxes and all these other hard problems that we’ll be solving over the course of the next several months, so it’s not available right now. We’re working on that, and bCentral is committed to delivering these services internationally over the next several months.
Weadock: That’s the great thing about offering this FrontPage Add-in through a Web service because as soon as it’s available in a given country, you can just download and install it right into FrontPage and away you go. It’s not like you have to go out and buy a new copy of FrontPage to do that.
PressPass: How does this announcement fit into Microsoft’s .NET vision of software as services?
Weadock: Providing the functionality that our customers are looking for in a service is one step in the direction of the .NET initiative. So creating this add-in, which was a really highly rated feature that our customers wanted, and teaming up with bCentral, made sense in terms of our .NET initiative.
Schmidt: bCentral ties in closely with Microsoft’s .NET vision because it’s software delivered as a service. We’ve been delivering that for a year now through our portal bCentral.com, and this add-in gives us the ability to deliver it to a whole new set of customers — the FrontPage customer base. So now customers can buy FrontPage and install it, host their Web site anywhere, and take advantage of the bCentral Commerce Manager service as a way of complementing the FrontPage product.