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Upgrade Joins Microsoft 'Great Plains' and 'Solomon'

Microsoft's latest upgrade to its software for building enterprise portals works right out of the box with its Great Plains financial and Solomon project management applications -- at no extra cost, the company said.

Version 2.0 of the company's Business Portal product is designed to let enterprise expose their financial management applications via a secure portal, so that employees, customers and partners can access them in the office or out in the field via a Web browser. The software also contains what Microsoft calls Web Parts, modular applets that can be used to quickly build portal applications.

Business Portal was originally released in April 2003. The new version is built on Windows SharePoint Services, Microsoft's Office collaboration tool. This feature lets Business Portal users publish and access SharePoint Web Parts such as document libraries, calendars and announcements.

Karen Engel, group product manager at Microsoft Business Solutions, said in a statement, "In release 2.0, Microsoft continues to deliver on its commitment to provide business solutions that help small and medium-sized companies realize more value from their IT investments." Microsoft executives were not immediately available for comment.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said that the release is part of Microsoft's ongoing integration of product lines it acquired.

"Microsoft considers its approach to collaboration to be one of its star technologies for the enterprise," he said. "One place it makes sense to have collaboration is in business process products, like accounting."

With SharePoint powering its portal technology, customers can create shared workspaces. The software is a simple way for businesses to build portals, Wilcox said.

"Rather than develop your own portal which you have to customize and plumb yourself, Microsoft provides the plumbing through SharePoint services, the actual structure through Business Portal 2.0. and the components thru Web Parts. Then, by the way, it also integrates your financial application as well."

The advantage, he said, is that the portal integrates well with the applications the business already has -- as long as they're Microsoft apps. "If you're using the latest version of Office and Windows Server and such, you'll be able to create these shared workspaces very quickly and be productive with them," he said. "If you're using an older product version -- and particularly if you're using non-Microsoft operating systems, you could find a situation where the data would not be accessible."

Microsoft Business Portal is shipped as part of Microsoft Great Plains and Microsoft Solomon (U.S. edition), with an additional seat fee for use. To make it more attractive for small to mid-sized businesses, the company slashed the price. Portal user access licenses are now from $20 to $40 per user, down from $40 to $65; there's also a new unlimited license for $40,000.

Said Wilcox, "Microsoft is investing $2 billion this year in marketing and product development for products for the small to mid-market. It's a growth market that Microsoft is anxious to court."

(Jupiter Research and this publication are owned by the same parent company.)