Microsoft: More Business Apps On Tap

If your company has sales of between $1 million and $800 million, don’t be surprised when Microsoft business-application salespeople come a-knockin’.

The mission of Microsoft’s rapidly growing Business Solutions division—the combined Great Plains, bCentral and, now, Navision units—is to sell to the “small” and “mid-size” businesses that fall into this category.

MSCRM, Microsoft’s customer relationship management (CRM) offering that is due to ship later this year, is just the first of what is evolving into a full stable of horizontal business applications from the division. Besides CRM, Microsoft is setting its sights on supply-chain management, manufacturing and distribution markets. It plans to enter these markets with a combination of on-premise software package, coupled with add-on services.

At the same time, Microsoft is attempting to enlist other specialty vertical app vendors and resellers to help it become a business-application powerhouse, according to Microsoft. To win these ISVs over, Microsoft is building a new platform called the .Net Business Framework. Not to be confused with the .Net Framework. The .Net Business Framework is a set of classes, run-times and development tools that will sit on top of the .Net Framework.

While the .Net Framework provides classes, run-times andtools, it delivers these at a base infrastructure level. The .Net Business Framework will attempt to provide higher-level tools in the areas of workflow, security and messaging. It also will offer ISVs a “rich object model”—one that will look a lot like the object file system Microsoft is building into Yukon, the next version of SQL Server, say Microsoft executives. Microsoft is encouraging ISVs to write to the .Net Business Framework and embed it in forthcoming versions of their applications.

Microsoft’s Business Solutions team is internally testing the .Net Business Framework right now. The Business Solutions division plans to deliver a first beta version to attendees of its Great Plains technical conference in July and release the final code before the end of 2002, says Darren Laybourn, vice president in charge of the .Net Business Framework. Within the next three to six months, watch for Microsoft to announce the first ISV early adopters of the framework, Laybourn says.

“We are hoping to reduce the number of lines of code that people will have to write,” Laybourn tells Microsoft Watch. “We want to build more technologies into the [.Net Business] Framework, so that applications will get them for free.”

Laybourn says Great Plains began developing the .Net Business Framework in-house more than three years ago, more than a year and a half before Microsoft bought Great Plains. Just as Siebel, Peoplesoft and Oracle all offer their own set of tools and classes for application development, Great Plains was looking to do the same—and one based on Microsoft’s .Net technologies, rather than Java 2 Enterprise Edition, IBM WebSphere or other third-party middleware.