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Once Fuzzy, Now Sharper, Shades of 'Project Green'

Microsoft brass laid out the roadmap for Project Green, the next generation of its business applications, while promising to support the existing Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) line.

At Convergence, its annual customer conference, Doug Burgum, senior vice president for the MBS group, set out the roadmap for Microsoft's line of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business software.

Burgum gave details on plans for Project Green, the code name for the next generation MBS. Following Redmond's "wave" metaphor, Burgum said Green will be delivered in two waves. The first wave, between 2005 and 2007, will include the release of a shared user interface based around 50 common configurable roles that people have within a company. The software will be integrated with Microsoft Office, and it will interoperate with service-oriented applications.

Green and Office will share a common configurable reporting environment based on SQL Server Reporting Services, as well as a common security-enhanced intranet and extranet environment based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server.

The second wave, which will begin shipping in 2008, will apply a model-driven approach to business processes, drawing on WinFX and Visual Studio .NET. WinFX are visual developer tools for the .NET framework.

Partners and ISVs have been critical of Microsoft, saying it is hyping Project Green.

"The things they said about Green made selling MBS software very difficult for a lot of partners," said Joshua Greenbaum, head of the consulting firm Enterprise Applications Consulting. The vague details about Green made it seem a better bet for some customers, he said, while others looked at it as an excuse to delay upgrading or buying. "Either way, Microsoft was shooting itself and its partners in the foot. They would have had a much better year had no one ever mentioned Green," he said.

But Dan Duffy, president and CEO of ePartners, a services firm focused on MBS, said that the specter of Green hadn't hindered his company's sales in the last year.

Still, he said, "It's appropriate they've stopped talking about Project Green. They've realized it's a vision for some date out in the future, but in the meantime, there's a lot of important business today."

Duffy said ePartners has cut its CRM product line, eliminating everything except Microsoft CRM, which he considers a precursor to the eventual overhaul of MBS. "I look at it as effectively the first organically developed element of Project Green," he said.

That's a much wiser product strategy, according to Greenbaum, and one that's easier to deliver on. "They're not trying to link application development to the database and the interface," he said. "It's a lot easier to sell a product that's not so highly dependent on other developments."

Redmond will continue to enhance and support the existing MBS products until at least 2013, Burgum said, with five years of mainstream support for each major release. Most products will include eight years of Web-based self-serve support.

The announcement gives at least another years' life to the product line. In June 2004, Microsoft promised to continue to develop and enhance the MBS line through 2012.

"You're seeing a consistent theme over the last year and a half around the product roadmap," said Duffy. "There's very pragmatic support of the existing portfolio of products."

The MBS line includes Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, Solomon, Microsoft CRM, Analytics-Forecaster and Retail Management System. All will have upgrades in 2005, Burgum said.

"I'm expecting Microsoft to make a lot of dramatic changes over the next year," Greenbaum said. "There's continuing channel conflict to resolve, and Microsoft's product strategy needs to get out of the way of partners' sales efforts."

Moreover, Greenbaum said he thinks Microsoft's strategy of encouraging partners to develop vertical solutions on top of the products is potentially strong, but still too uncoordinated. "The notion of vertical and co-specific functionality getting diffused through the ecosystem in a better way is a big one, and one I want to hear some solutions to."