Microsoft adds to midmarket product portfolio

wo new products are on the way from Microsoft Business Solutions, Microsoft's development unit for software aimed at small- and medium-size businesses.

Microsoft Business Solutions was formed through the combination of two businesses acquired by Microsoft, Great Plains Software Inc. and Navision Software AS, with Microsoft's own bCentral information portal. The two products announced this week have similarly composite origins.

Microsoft Business Solutions Professional Services Automation (PSA) is targeted at project administrators. Using technology from Great Plains' Solomon line and the enterprise version of Microsoft Project 2002, the software includes tools for team collaboration and recording and tracking various aspects of ongoing projects, including budgets, billing, materials and payroll.

The application is intended to offer users centralized resource management and greater budget control, and is designed for users in a variety of industries with needs as diverse as those of professional services firms and construction companies, according to Microsoft. Microsoft Business Solutions PSA is scheduled for availability in the fourth quarter in North America. Pricing has not yet been announced.

Also announced this week and now available worldwide is the Microsoft Retail Management System (RMS), built on the QuickSell product line Microsoft acquired in May by purchasing developer Sales Management Systems Inc. The RMS handles point-of-sale operations such as price lookups, inventory checks and payment processing, along with back-office functions such as inventory creation and replenishment calculations and management of customer accounts and employee information.

Available in several languages, the RMS comes in two versions, one for managing single-store operations and one for multistore retailers. Pricing starts at US$1,290.

The new products were unveiled at Microsoft Business Solutions' Stampede 2002 conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Microsoft used the event for product demos and to tout the deepening integration between Microsoft Business Solutions' collection of applications and Microsoft technology from outside the unit, including its ubiquitous-in-the-enterprise Microsoft Office suite.

Microsoft also previewed at the show an in-development service for facilitating contact between small businesses and their suppliers. The Microsoft Business Network is focused on the communications underlying supply-chain management, and will make use of the XML (Extensible Markup Language) and EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) protocols for transmitting documents and other data.

"This is really about helping businesses and their trading partners exchange key pieces of information about orders, inventory status, quality records and so on," said lead product manager Marcus Schmidt.

The Microsoft Business Network is scheduled for beta testing later this year and general release in early 2003. Pricing has not yet been announced, but will be on a subscription basis.

Several initiatives aimed at spurring software spending were announced, including a new financing program for small- and medium-sized businesses intended to reduce the amount of up-front cash required for purchases. The program will be available through Microsoft Business Solutions resellers.

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