Microsoft schedules Project update

The company's new project management software will have extensive ties to the next version of Office and let managers herd tasks involving multiple stages and employees.

Microsoft hopes to make project management a substantial part of office routines with a new version of software that it announced Wednesday.

Microsoft Office Project 2003 can be used with other applications in the upcoming version of the company's market-leading Office productivity package, making it easier for office workers and managers to keep track of large-scale projects, said Giovanni Mezgec, group product manager at Microsoft.

The new application is Microsoft's entry into the developing market for project management software, which managers use to herd assignments involving multiple stages and co-workers. Typical tasks for such software include reminding workers when a certain piece is due and compiling time-line and budget estimates based on the complexity of the effort.

Microsoft Project started out as a desktop-only application, but the company expanded its reach last year with a server version that gives workers more options for communicating with each other.

Project 2003, to be released this fall at about the same time that the new version of Office is launched, hides some of the complexity of the program by shifting some common functions to other Office applications, Mezgec said.

Instead of workers having to open the Project client every time they need to look at a scheduled item, for example, the new Project will automatically load all relevant entries into employees' Outlook calendars.

"The main strategy is to integrate with the rest of the Office System...to integrate project management with the tools they use every day on their desktop," Mezgec said. "A lot of people are in Outlook all day long, so it just makes sense to tap into that, where we can."

The new Project also will tie in with SharePoint, Microsoft's collaboration software, which gives workers a common environment for sharing information and documents. Project management and collaboration are often collateral tasks, Mezgec said, so it makes sense for the two to work together.

"What we did not want to do is have an interface for team collaboration and another for project management," he said. "We want to provide information on projects using tools people already have on the desktop."

Project 2003, like the main Office 2003 applications it will link with, will allow workers to output data in Extensible Markup Language (XML), the rapidly spreading standard for exchanging data between disparate computing systems. Outputting in XML means data in a Project database can be shared by other applications, such as software for tracking corporate expenses, Mezgec said. "The idea is to make it easier for a broader number of people in an enterprise to work with Project-related information," he said.

Pricing and an exact release date for Project 2003 will be announced later.

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