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Microsoft readies business applications update

New features in Dynamics GP 9.0, formerly Great Plains, include customer extranets and personalized reports.

Microsoft plans to release a new version of its business-management applications next month that includes a bevy of new features, including customer extranets and personalized business reports.

Microsoft Dynamics GP version 9.0 will be available to future customers starting Dec. 19, the company said Tuesday. Another version, with migration tools for 38,000 current customers, will be available early next year.

GP stands for Great Plains, which was the software's previous name before a rebranding exercise in September. It was also the name of the company Microsoft acquired in 2001, launching it into the market for business applications that assist companies with accounting, distribution, production, service and personnel tasks.

Microsoft packed the 9.0 release with more than 170 new features, the company said. Among them are customized desktops and business reports based on the jobs of particular users and which tie into e-mail and calendar information from Microsoft Outlook. The product comes with 21 such "role-based" desktops, including ones for customer service representatives, payroll administrators and purchasing managers. The idea is to make the programs "less generic," said Lynne Stockstad, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics GP.

A new extranet feature is designed to allow customers, partners and employees access to key information and place orders via a Web browser, reducing paperwork and duplication. And a new Business Portal Executive Center offers managers detailed business reports and performance metrics, Microsoft said.

Microsoft said it also made sure that the updated programs can easily exchange pricing, order status, customer credit and other data with an upcoming release of its customer information system, Microsoft Dynamics CRM. In addition, 160 new application programming interfaces should make it easier for customers and partners to build add-on programs, the company said.

As with past releases, Microsoft will offer two flavors of Dynamics GP 9.0. The Standard Edition will start at $3,500 for up to four users. The Professional Edition starts at $7,500 for up to four users.