Microsoft wraps up Project 2003

Microsoft Corp. has priced its Project 2003 products and plans to release the project planning and management software to manufacturing on Monday, entering the final phase before commercial availability of the products, the company said Wednesday.

Project 2003 will be available as a stand-alone desktop application, Project Standard 2003, priced at US$599, and as the Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management Solution. The latter product includes Project Professional 2003, listed at US$999, and Project Server 2003, priced at US$1,499, Microsoft said in a statement.

Project Server 2003 comes with five client access licenses, or CALs. Project Professional 2003 includes one CAL. Additional CALs cost US$179. Each user who accesses the Project Server needs a CAL, Chris Capossela, general manager for Project at Microsoft said in an interview.

Pricing is unchanged from Project 2002, the previous version of the software. However, Microsoft now offers a per-user CAL in addition to the per-device CAL it sold previously. It also offers an external connector license, priced at $30,000, which allows an organization to grant unlimited access to its Project Server to partners and others outside the company.

The prices are estimated retail prices. Volume buyers typically get discounts, Capossela said. After RTM (release to manufacturing), it typically takes about six weeks before a product becomes available in stores. Certain enterprise customers may be able to get a product sooner through Microsoft's volume licensing program.

Microsoft announced Project 2003 in June at the ProjectWorld Conference in Boston, a year after the launch of Project 2002. The company is breaking its usual two-year upgrade cycle in this instance to fit the product into its Office System 2003 release cycle and in response to customer feedback.

"We got lambasted with constructive feedback on what was missing in the product," Capossela said in a presentation on Project at Microsoft's Mountain View, California, campus on Wednesday.

Project 2003 offers several new features designed to boost use of the products in the enterprise. Project Server 2003 will link with Outlook 2000 or higher and Excel 2000 or higher, as well as with Windows SharePoint Services in Windows Server 2003, allowing users to access and change information about their projects using tools they might already work with.

For example, a project manager can assign a task to a team member and that task will automatically show up in that team member's Outlook calendar. Using Outlook, the team member can report progress and time spent on the project.

Also, there are more ways to link Project 2003 Server to other IT systems. Microsoft partners can help companies tie Project to an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, for example, to access all kinds of data used in handling projects.

"We are transforming the project business to appeal to a much broader set of users," Capossela said. Microsoft hopes the Office integration will move executives, research managers, IT managers and project team members to use Project, expanding the user base from just project managers, he said.

Users seem excited by the expanded functionality.

"We see tremendous promise in this technology," said Kevin Myette, director of Gear and Apparel business operations at Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI), an outdoor gear retailer based in Kent, Washington.

REI uses Project to manage some 600 new projects each year, one for every new or revised product style, Myette said. Project helps solve problems with portfolio management, document management, resource scheduling and allocation as well as with cross-departmental and divisional communications, he said.

Project Server runs on Windows 2000 Server and SQL Server 2000. However, Windows Server 2003 with SharePoint Services is required if a customer wants document management and issue tracking features, Capossela said. Current Project Professional 2002 desktop clients will work with Project Server 2003, he said.

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Joris Evers

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