Microsoft is updating its back-office software, tying it more closely to Office and planning a unified version of the separate products to be linked with its Longhorn operating system release.
The software giant will release the latest version of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) product Great Plains in early July. An updated version of its Navision will ship in October, while Axapta is slated for a 2005 release.
Microsoft's Business Solution unit is pushing forward with a strategy to add a common set of enhancements to its software. These include integration with Office programs such as Word and Excel, improved analytical tools and more opportunity for customisation.
"Customers will see a consistent direction with these improvements: giving them more powerful tools and lowering the cost of using them," said Microsoft Business Solutions UK manager Simon Edwards.
Great Plains 8 contains 150 enhancements to previous versions, including the addition of analytical accounting features which provide businesses with greater insight into where their money is being spent.
The ultimate goal for Microsoft is to merge the various strands of its back-office products into one code set. It will use its next generation operating system, codenamed Longhorn, as the basis of this common set, expected to be ready in 2006.
"The long-term goal is to create business applications that are more process driven, using web services technology to share information," said Edwards.
Customers can also expect to see industry-specific versions of Great Plains and Navision before the integrated version is available.
One issue yet to be resolved is how Microsoft will license its software. The company opted to license its customer relationship management software via its Software Assurance model.
Last year it said it was considering extending this to its Great Plains and Navision software, currently sold with perpetual licences. But Edwards said there was no current plan for changes to the licensing.
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