The Commerce Server 2000 Solution Sites can give you a tremendous head start when you develop Web sites based on Commerce Server 2000. Two Solution Sites are available, the Retail Solution Site and the Supplier Solution Site. Each Solution Site consists of two complete Web applications: One is the Web application itself, which you can host in an Internet, intranet, or extranet environment, and one is the Business Desk Application, which maintains intranet-hosted sites. After you understand how the Solution Sites operate, these applications can provide a highly structured approach to building easily extended and maintained Web sites.

The Solution Sites incorporate most of Commerce Server 2000's capabilities. You can use the Solution Sites to build working Web sites that you can customize as needed. Solution Site features include—but aren't limited to—shopping baskets, checkout, payment options, extensible and multiple product catalog capabilities, multiple address management, login/authentication and authorization, user tracking, profiles, targeted advertisements, discounts, a prediction engine, customer service, partner service, analysis integration, BizTalk Server integration, and international features.

The Retail site serves as the starting point for building business-to-consumer (B2C) Web sites. It's a typical Internet shopping site that allows, for example, general-public access and credit-card purchases.

The Supplier site serves as the starting point for building business-to-business (B2B) Web sites. Specifically, this site models situations such as businesses that sell products to other businesses. The Supplier Site lets you delegate administrative functions to the buying businesses.

Microsoft's documentation states that "the Commerce Server Solution Sites provide a starting point for building commercial Web sites that use the functionality provided by Commerce Server 2000." But these sites are much more than the "starter sites" Microsoft has shipped with its server products in the past: The new sites are feature-packed and robust. For instance, the Supplier site installs on an IIS 5.0 Web server two virtual directories that contain 1042 files spread over 50 folders! That's a lot of content! In addition, you'll end up with two SQL Server databases that contain 223 tables; the application database contains 93 tables and the data warehouse contains 130 tables.

What's interesting for the developer as well as the IIS administrator is that these sites consist of a common code base—the same set of files, configured to behave differently on each site. Microsoft designed the sites this way—both sites incorporate much of the same functionality and are similar in behavior, differing only in a few aspects. Moreover, you can reconfigure either site and construct a different type of site that blends the functions of the two Solution Sites. For example, authentication is a feature of the Supplier site, not the Retail site. But you can add "Members Only" functionality to the Retail site, which forces users to authenticate against the Active Directory (AD).

Neither site comes with a standardized "look and feel." Rather, the sites let you use an HTML table-based architecture to quickly and easily add your own look and feel.

If you're thinking about quickly and painlessly getting into B2B or B2C on the Microsoft platform, I strongly encourage you to check out the Commerce Server 2000 Solution Sites. For more information about Microsoft Commerce Server 2000 Server and to download a 120-day trial version, visit Microsoft's Web site.