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This week in business software

Microsoft unveils the first fruits of its labor to enmesh its collection of incompatible business management programs.

Microsoft kicked off its Convergence conference in San Diego by unveiling the first fruits of its labor to enmesh its collection of incompatible business management programs.

A business unit, called Microsoft Business Solutions, represents Microsoft's foray into the so-called enterprise resource planning, or ERP, software market in which Oracle and Germany's SAP are wrestling for global dominance.

After making several acquisitions to get itself in the business applications game, Microsoft developed "Project Green," an effort that would bring the various products under a single code base in a few years.

Initially, Microsoft is focusing on drawing each of the business applications closer to other Microsoft products, namely adding business intelligence features that tie into its SQL Server database and portal services from the company's SharePoint product line. Another effort focuses on allowing the products to share a common Web services structure to connect with one another and with other software.

Microsoft is also readying a software package designed to help companies manage radio frequency identification technology. The company plans early next year to release the RFID Services Platform, a middleware product that connects the hardware that monitors RFID signals with the business software that can make sense of the information.

The product is designed for businesses that want to incorporate RFID into their own systems, as well as for other software companies that want to build a product based on Microsoft's technology. The RFID product will be built on top of Microsoft's .Net development platform and will run on a two-processor server.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates used the conference to point out that the faster pace of innovation for consumers has given individuals access to technology and communication breakthroughs, but the same advances have been slower to reach many businesses. In the consumer arena, where Microsoft faces competition from companies like Google, Nokia and Apple Computer, products are being updated rapidly, as often as every six months.

"In the business space, it's more stair step," Gates said, noting that business programs tend to get larger updates, but only every two to three years. The result is that many of the communication breakthroughs have come through consumer technologies such as instant messaging.