Microsoft takes gradual approach to Project Green

MBS exec revises the vision for aligning Microsoft's business apps

The task of aligning Microsoft's collection of business applications around a common technology stack will happen in two distinct stages, Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) head Doug Burgum told attendees at Microsoft's Convergence business applications show this week, 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 refined and revised Microsoft's vision of Project Green, an initiative it began discussing several years ago, after acquisitions left it with an assortment of midmarket ERP (enterprise resource planning) software built on different architectures. Microsoft initially positioned Project Green as a forthcoming new software suite that would meld all of its applications into one code base. Now, Burgum describes Project Green as a more gradual, incremental initiative that will involve shared design and some shared code among the business applications in their next major updates, but without any drastic migration for users to a wholly new platform.

Each of Microsoft's Business Solutions product lines -- Navision, Great Plains, Axapta, Solomon, and Microsoft CRM (customer relationship management) -- will receive a major update within the next year, which will bring to the applications some shared user-interface changes. A later, second wave update in each line will being back-end shared code to the lines, but customers will be able to follow a smooth upgrade path, Burgum said. To further reassure customers, he also announced an extension in Microsoft's support guarantees for its business applications, from three to five years.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Chris Alliegro said talk of a gradual migration is a welcome clarification. "There's hints, at least, that you can go from Great Plains to Project Green," he said. "I've asked that question before and the answer always was 'We don't have an answer for you yet.'"

"I have to see more detailed plans, but I think their message is right," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Paul Hamerman. "Last year Microsoft started backpedaling on Green because competitors were trying to leverage it. It needs to be a gradual migration. Fusion has people scared." Fusion is Oracle's name for its planned convergence of its Oracle, PeopleSoft, and J.D. Edwards code bases.

One show attendee said he's not worried about Microsoft's long-term road map, especially in light of its extended five-year support promise. "Five years is very reasonable," said Lubos Hudec, the accounting administrator for Executive Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, a 17-person commercial HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) specialist firm based in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Executive Air selected Great Plains as its ERP system last year after also considering Microsoft's Solomon and Best Software's Accpac. The deployment was smooth and the software has worked out well, Hudec said. He's intrigued by Microsoft's Project Green talk, and said he trusts Microsoft not to change its product lineup in such a way that Executive Air would be forced off Great Plains.

Consultant Beth Auza, who works on Great Plains and Solomon projects, said her clients haven't expressed concern about Project Green. She's pleased with the support extension. "That's big," said Auza, who is president of Lauterbach Technology Group, in El Paso, Texas. "Microsoft upgrades are big changes, and we've had customers worried about keeping up. This will reassure them."

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.