MS splits Project Green into two waves

First wave of integrated business applications is scheduled to ship later this year

SAN DIEGO - The task of aligning Microsoft's collection of business applications around a common technology stack will happen in two distinct stages, Microsoft Senior Vice President Doug Burgum said Monday in a keynote address opening the company's Convergence conference, in San Diego.

A "first wave" of applications will begin shipping this year, while a "second wave" is scheduled to commence in 2008, leading to a converged code base, Burgum said.

Burgum heads Microsoft Business Solutions, the unit Microsoft created several years ago by combining its own back-office application development projects with two acquired companies, Great Plains and Navision. The move gave Microsoft a substantial portfolio of midmarket ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) products, but also left it with overlapping software suites built around different architectures.

Microsoft announced plans to combine its major business applications -- Axapta, Great Plains, Solomon, Navision and Microsoft CRM -- on one code base, dubbed "Project Green." The company initially put Project Green on an ambitious development path and forecast deliverables as early as 2004, but in the past year Microsoft has extended its development window and scaled back expectations.

Microsoft now sees the convergence of its business applications as a more gradual and incremental process. Each of the five software lines will have a major "wave one" overhaul within the next year, Burgum said. That update will bring a shared user interface to all the applications and better integrate them with other Microsoft technologies like its SharePoint portal software and SQL Server reporting tools.

Starting in 2008, Microsoft expects to release "second wave" updates moving the applications toward a common code base and a shared, model-driven business process architecture. Those second-wave updates will be integrated with Microsoft's forthcoming Longhorn operating system update, which isn't due until 2006, and its still-in-development Microsoft Office 12 upgrade.

Microsoft will talk more next year about its second-wave plans, Burgum said. For now, Microsoft Business Solutions is focusing on the next updates in each of its applications lines. Most of those aren't due until late 2005. Microsoft said it will release Microsoft Axapta 3.0 Service Pack 4 in the second quarter of this year and Navision 4.01 in the third. In the fourth quarter of the year, Microsoft plans to release Great Plains 8.5, Solomon 6.5 and a beta version of Axapta 4.0; a release-to-manufacturing version of Axapta 4.0 is scheduled for the first half of 2006. The next version of Microsoft CRM is slated for a late 2005 release-to-manufacturing.

To reassure customers worried about Microsoft's planned applications overhauls, Burgum announced an extension of the company's support guarantee. Microsoft will now support each major application update for five years, up from the three years previously promised.

Convergence attendees were pleased with that move. "That's big," said Beth Auza, president of Lauterbach Technology Group LLC, an El Paso, Texas, services firm that works on Solomon and Great Plains projects. "Microsoft upgrades are big changes, and we've had customers worried about keeping up. This will reassure them."

Great Plains customer Lubos Hudec, whose company selected Great Plains last year as its first ERP system, said he's also happy with the extension. "Five years is very reasonable," said Hudec, the accounting administrator for Executive Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Ltd., a commercial HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) specialist firm based in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.