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Microsoft details enhancements to Great Plains 8.0

The next version of Microsoft's accounting software will include a new interface, closer ties to Office and a revamped business portal

Microsoft UK has released further details of upcoming enhancements to version 8.0 of its Great Plains accounting software, which is set for release in July.

Version 8.0 of Great Plains will include a revamped interface that mimics Microsoft Office together with new links to Office applications, as well as support for analytic accounting across the world, including North America, and an enhanced business portal.

Microsoft hopes that deeper integration into the core Microsoft technology stack, and in particular Microsoft Office, will reduce training costs by making Great Plains easier to use.

"The office environment is pretty much as permissive as a Web browser. We know 385 million customers can't be wrong," said Adrian Morish, Microsoft Great Plains product manager at Microsoft Business Solutions UK.

Users with the existing flat segment-based accounting software need to create a separate code for everything they need to account for.

Analytic accounting gives users the flexibility to name and link financial information with their own labels, such as by region, and not have to organise everything via basic account codes.

"With analytic accounting it's a multi-dimensional hierarchy. It's a core development to the product, and those people who already have sophisticated segments can just absorb that into the hierarchies. It's a major change, and it's the way that people want to work," said Morish.

Microsoft had already released analytic accounting functionality in the UK and some other English speaking markets, but version 8.0 adds North America and the rest of the world.

The next version of Great Plains enhances the Web-based Business Portal that uses Sharepoint services, which are part of Microsoft Server 2003.

"It allows you to create company-wide portals with real time dynamic financial information, and because it's using Sharepoint it removes the false separation between financial information and other data. It enables real time Web access to financial information, but you don't need to have a license for another Great Plains client, and you can afford to share information at much lower cost," said Morish.

However, users who need to conduct transactions over the Web, such as end-of-day cashing up in a hotel, will need to write an interface using .Net into Great Plains.

Microsoft also is planning an update of its Navision enterprise resource planning software. Navision 4.0, set for release in October, will include enhancements intended to make it easier and quicker for businesses to implement customized versions of the product.

Microsoft now has a complicated set of overlapping sets of business applications that includes its own CRM application as well as the Great Plains, Navision and Solomon product lines.

Microsoft's master plan to integrate its different business applications is called Project Green. This will meld its patchwork quilt of applications into a single interconnected set, with Microsoft rebuilding the software on its own technology.

"We're taking the best capabilities, not just the functional capabilities, but the people as well. There are some really first rate developers, so for example, the field service capabilities in CRM are being written by the fields service team from Great Plains," said Morish.

Project Green is tied in to the release of the next Windows upgrade, code-named Longhorn, set to ship in 2006. Microsoft will carry on updating and maintaining the current versions of its four sets of applications until 2012.

Customers who continue to purchase maintenance services for those products will receive the new Project Green applications for no additional licence fee, according to Microsoft US officials.

"With next-generation it will be one product. Up until 2013 we have transformation assurance - we already have a spec for version 9.0 of Great Plains," said Morish.

"You will be able to buy whatever you like from Microsoft or from other ISVs. You get freedom of choice and best of breed," he said.