SP1 for Microsoft's Project may drive upgrades

Microsoft said it plans to announce soon the release date for SP1 for the Office Project software.

Microsoft executives said they are working hard to finish up its Service Pack 1 for Microsoft Office Project 2007, an update that some users have been waiting for before deploying the most recent version of the software.

SP1 will update Project Professional 2007, Project Server 2007 and Project Portfolio Server 2007, said Keshav Puttaswamy, group program manager at Microsoft, speaking during the Microsoft Office Project Conference in the U.S. this week.

It will primarily fix bugs and improve stability and performance, said Mike Angiulo, general manager of the Microsoft Project business unit. It will also enhance some cache features, he said.

While the conference might have been an ideal venue for announcing the release date for SP1, executives said they'll wait another two or three weeks before disclosing that information.

Office Project 2007, the most recent version of the project management software, became available earlier this year. But as with other new Microsoft software, some customers have been waiting for SP1 before deploying it.

Christopher Ludlow, director of project management at Amylin Pharmaceuticals, said he is waiting for SP1 before migrating to Project 2007. The system integrator he works with advised him to hold off because their experience was that Project 2007 is glitchy and unstable, he said.

If SP1 fixes those issues, he's interested in some of the new features of Project 2007, including a reported improved network responsiveness that may mean he doesn't have to rely on Citrix for remote access.

Microsoft executives touted some other new features in Project 2007 at the conference. One of the most important updates in Project 2007 is that it can support many more users than it could previously, said Angiulo. Technology consulting firm EDS has one of the biggest deployments of Project 2003, with 8,000 users, he said. "They were driving the limit of what you could get out of it," he said.

Microsoft and EDS put together a scalability lab to test volume users of Project 2007. They supported 40,000 users, he said. EDS has a goal of growing to 60,000 users.

Angiulo also promoted the integration of Project with other Microsoft software, such as Outlook and Excel. Because many businesses use Office software, that integration sounds helpful to Ludlow.

But some of the integration is forced, which is turning other businesses away. Jan Tervonen, vice president of technology at Seattle medical technology company MRS, currently supports Project 2003. She started the upgrade to 2007 but backed out when she learned that it required the newest version of SharePoint. She wasn't ready for that upgrade yet.

On Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is scheduled to address the conference, and he's expected to describe future planned enhancements to Project, including deeper integration with Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. In addition, future versions of Project will support earlier stage projects that aren't yet fully defined, he'll say. Those features are part of an overall strategy at Microsoft to try to expand the use of Project beyond project managers, he's expected to say.

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