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Microsoft updates business offerings

The software giant announces a slew of updates to its business applications and services at the start of its Convergence 2004 conference.

Microsoft announced a herd of updates to its business applications and services Monday, marking the beginning of its Convergence 2004 conference for business customers.

The updates include new functions for the Microsoft Business Network, a subscription-based software hosting service Microsoft released last year to help companies exchange shipping lists, inventory updates and other data.

The company said the network can now process documents based on the electronic data interchange (EDI) standard, a widely used precursor to XML (Extensible Markup Language) for describing the contents of business documents.

Microsoft said in a statement that, working with software partner Inovis, it developed a system to translate EDI documents into the XML dialect used by Microsoft Business Network. "Together with Microsoft Business Solutions, we are committed to helping small and midsize businesses meet the needs of their trading partners, regardless of existing technology or communications infrastructure," Inovis CEO Ilaria Derr said in a statement.

Other announcements from Convergence 2004, which runs through Wednesday in Orlando, Fla., include an update to Microsoft CRM, the software giant's customer relationship management application, to allow mobile access to sales data. Planned for release this summer, the update will allow customers running the Microsoft CRM Sales for Outlook Extension to synchronize data with handheld computers running Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.

In addition, the company announced an update to its Great Plains accounting software. Version 8.0 of Great Plains, set for release in July, will include a revamped interface that mimics Microsoft Office, the company's market-leading productivity package, and new links to Office applications.

Microsoft also is planning an update of its Navision enterprise resource planning software. Navision 4.0, set for release in October, will include enhancements intended to make it easier and quicker for businesses to implement customized versions of the product.