Middleware Delay Influenced Microsoft's New Business-Applications Road Map - InformationWeek

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3/9/2005
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Middleware Delay Influenced Microsoft's New Business-Applications Road Map

A software layer called the Microsoft Business Framework keeps getting pushed back and, with it, Microsoft's next-generation ERP suite.

Microsoft this week revealed a modified strategy for developing a new generation of enterprise-resource-planning applications built with its own tools. The change in plans was due, in part, to a delay in the development of middleware called the Microsoft Business Framework that's closely associated with Microsoft's planned Longhorn operating system.

"It was a factor," Microsoft senior VP Doug Burgum says, of how the delay in Microsoft Business Framework, disclosed last fall, influenced a recalibrated product road map presented Monday at the company's Convergence conference in San Diego. Company chairman Bill Gates is scheduled to speak at Convergence today.

Microsoft Business Framework is a programming layer of certain base-level functionality that today resides within business applications. Microsoft believes it can make business-applications programming more efficient by moving such functions out of apps and into the Windows operating environment. Some parts of the framework were supposed to appear in Visual Studio 2005 this year, and then the whole thing was pushed back to the Longhorn time frame. Last summer, Microsoft delayed the framework beyond Longhorn.

Microsoft's next-generation ERP suite, code-named Project Green, will depend on the Microsoft Business Framework for some of its functionality. Project Green is intended to eventually replace the company's hodge-podge of acquired ERP products "- the Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, and Solomon lines -- with a new suite developed using Microsoft tools and programming languages.

Until recently, Microsoft officials described the Project Green applications as being on a similar timeline as Longhorn. A client version of Longhorn is due next year, and a server version in 2007. Now, however, Microsoft plans to deliver major updates to the Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, and Solomon lines in the 2008 time frame, while pushing the Green applications further into the future.

Thus, the evolution of Microsoft's ERP line will now occur in three phases. Over the next two years, Microsoft plans to deliver a shared user interface, SQL Server-based reporting capabilities, and SharePoint collaboration services as a way of bringing a degree of commonality to its four ERP suites.

After that, beginning in 2008, will come a round of major upgrades to Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, and Solomon that begin to share design elements and, in some cases, common, underlying code. This second wave of products will be based on Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net programming environment and in-development WinFX APIs and will be developed using what Microsoft calls a model-driven approach.

"As those individual product lines live longer, they will become more similar over time," Burgum says. "They will become more and more alike to each other." Microsoft this week extended mainstream support for future releases of its ERP applications from three years to five years.

The final phase will result in the next-generation applications first described two years ago as the key deliverables of Project Green. Microsoft officials say they remain committed to the concept of ERP applications with a common code base, but provide no time frame for delivering them. "The vision is the same," Burgum says. "What's different is how we intend to achieve that vision."

Microsoft hasn't provided an updated delivery date for the Business Framework. Satya Nadella, VP of development for Microsoft Business Solutions, says future releases of Microsoft's ERP applications will make use of the Business Framework and WinFX technologies as they become available.

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