Microsoft: Slow going in biz software push

"Project Green" effort to bring disparate business applications under a single code base will happen--eventually.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
SAN DIEGO--Even for Microsoft, it's not easy being green.

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.

"It's a tough challenge. Some of it was expected to be tough, and some of it was even tougher than what was expected."
--Doug Burgum,
senior vice president,

However, the timetable for the plan turned out to be both quicker than customers wanted and sooner than Microsoft could deliver.

At its annual Convergence conference here on Monday, Microsoft laid out a plan that will get the company there--eventually. Befitting the event's coastal California locale, Microsoft Senior Vice President Doug Burgum laid out a plan where the commonality will come to the disparate products in a series of waves.

"I think this is innovation without as much disruption." Burgum said at a press conference.

Initially, Microsoft is focusing on a couple of areas. One is 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. The other effort focuses on allowing the products to share a common Web services structure to connect with one another and with other software. That wave starts now, but is likely to continue until 2007.

A second wave, running through the end of the decade, is tied to Microsoft's Longhorn era of products and gets the company closer, but not all the way toward its goal of a single shared code base. The company plans to tap advances not just in the operating system, but also in the next version of the company's Visual Studio programming tools.

For example, Burgum said the second wave will take advantage of the all-new WinFS file system to allow companies to track business information when it heads beyond the realm of so-called structured data and into things like e-mail.

As for the rest of the code base integration, Burgum said he hopes the effort will come about in some sort of third wave but acknowledges it is taking Microsoft longer than it hoped to get to its vision.

"It's a tough challenge," he said in an interview. "Some of it was expected to be tough, and some of it was even tougher than what was expected."

In addition to the challenges of moving to a common code base, the company has also delayed two nearer-term releases, updates to Axapta, an enterprise resource planning tool, and Microsoft CRM products--or products for managing customer relations.

"We had choices in both cases," Burgum said. "Do you hit the release date and cut features, or do you keep the feature set and push the release date out? In both cases, there was pressure from customers and partners to add features."

The unit also has its challenges on the business side. Whereas it once hoped to be making money by the end of this fiscal year, the company now says that it is not planning on profitability for the near future as it invests in moving into new markets--both new countries and new products, such as a small business accounting program.

CEO Steve Ballmer laid out the path for the unit at a partner conference last year: Make the world more like Denmark, where Microsoft has a 60 percent to 70 percent market share, thanks to its Navision product.

"We're a long ways away from that," Burgum told reporters. "In a lot of places, we are in the single digits."