October 7, 2003 2:15 PM PDT

Microsoft lays out 'Project Green' revamp

Microsoft is linking the release of major new versions of its business management applications to the debut of the next generation of its Windows operating system.

The software company outlined the latest details of Project Green, its long-term effort to meld four overlapping sets of business applications, at a Las Vegas manufacturing technology conference Tuesday. The applications were picked up by Microsoft in its acquisitions in the past few years of software companies Great Plains and Navision.

At the conference, Microsoft also disclosed plans to introduce more software for product manufacturers.

As the Windows upgrade, code-named Longhorn, is set to ship in 2005 at the earliest, Microsoft customers will have to wait at least two years to get their hands on any Project Green products, said Mike Frichol, a Microsoft Business Solutions general manager.

For the software maker, Project Green represents a key milestone in an effort it began nearly three years ago to storm the business applications market.

By spending nearly $2.5 billion on buying United States-based Great Plains and Denmark-based Navision, Microsoft set itself up to compete in the market for wide-ranging software packages designed to automate corporate bookkeeping, human resources and other business tasks. Rivals in that niche include German software maker SAP and perennial Microsoft foe Oracle as well as PeopleSoft and Best Software.

While the two major acquisitions propelled Microsoft into that market, they left the company with a patchwork of software products that operate on different technologies and that cannot easily be made to work together. Project Green is designed to meld that patchwork into a single set of interconnected applications, with Microsoft rebuilding the software on its own technology.

Microsoft will carry on updating and maintaining the current versions of the four sets of applications--the Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon product lines--until 2012, Frichol said. Customers who continue to purchase maintenance services for those products will receive the new Project Green applications for no additional license fee, he said.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software company has tied the release of many of its products to Longhorn. Microsoft has said that it plans new versions of Office, its server software and many other programs to coincide with the new Windows version. Analysts have said the move creates a risk, because the releases of many programs are potentially delayed if Longhorn or one of the other major programs has a glitch.

In the meantime, Microsoft is readying a slew of new software that's aimed at product manufacturers. One, called Demand Planner, is designed to help companies coordinate their production activity, using sales forecasts and other market data. The software will be available by the end of this year, Frichol said.

Also set to debut is Microsoft Business Network, a software hosting service that's designed to help companies shuttle inventory, shipping and order information to trading partners via Internet-based technology. The service, available through an annual subscription, will be hosted and sold by a select group of Microsoft partners starting next month, Frichol said.

The software giant is also working on linking software maker Autodesk's engineering and design applications to Microsoft's manufacturing applications. The joint development project should be completed by June, Frichol said.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

 

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