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Microsoft to take Money suite online

The MSN Money Professional financial offering, another component in the software titan's growing array of .Net services, will go into testing early next year.

Microsoft on Monday unveiled a new suite of online financial services that will be another component in the company's growing .Net array.

The software titan plans to begin testing the services, code-named MSN Money Professional, early next year.

Advent Software is the first company to embrace the new offering, which will be available to about 6,500 clients.

"With this service, we're extending the benefits of the .Net platform to the financial services industry, connecting advisers and clients in a more personalized and unified way," Bob Muglia, group vice president of the Microsoft .Net Services Group, said in a statement.

"MSN Money Professional exemplifies our commitment to provide technologies that embrace the accessibility and flexibility of the Web to help businesses meet the needs of their customers," he said.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has been championing its .Net software-as-a-service strategy as the best way to move beyond the challenges the company faces selling software. Through .Net, Microsoft envisions building the infrastructure to deliver--or enable third parties to deliver--a broad range of services over the Internet. The company also hopes to sell more software on a subscription basis, rather than simply collecting a one-time fee.

So far, a majority of announced .Net services have focused on the business-to-consumer market. MSN Money Professional is the first service clearly targeted at business customers--in this case, financial advisers.

The Gatekeeper: Windows XP While some people had been expecting sweeping innovations from Microsoft, early .Net offerings are likely to be meat-and-potatoes kinds of services, said Gartner analyst David Smith.

"This is the kind of thing people should be expecting to see from .Net--application services that make sense and (that) companies are going to offer one way or another anyway," he said.

As with many other .Net offerings, Microsoft is looking to its MSN Web properties to deliver the suite of services. In the past year, the company has been quietly laying the groundwork by integrating MSN in virtually every software product it sells. The Microsoft Money and Great Plains Accounting financial software applications both rely heavily on MSN. Through Smart Tags, Microsoft's Office XP links back to MSN. Windows XP hooks to MSN throughout the operating system for functions such as media playing and instant messaging, among others.

The new services are expected to lean on Microsoft software, as do other existing services. Microsoft's small-business bCentral services, for example, rely on FrontPage for Web publishing and on one of the company's two money-management programs for accounting.

Still, the Web-based service could lessen financial advisers' reliance on desktop software to conduct business. Advisers will have access to a private portal for managing clients' investment portfolios, researching news and looking up stock quotes. The service also will provide a secure connection to the advisers' record system for feeding the data into a Web-based portfolio manager. In addition, financial advisers will be able to publish their reports as needed from MSN Money Professional.

Advent Software will use MSN Money Professional to build WealthLine, a Web-based adviser-client collaboration tool for financial institutions.

"By combining Advent's document publishing and portfolio reporting with Microsoft's leading personal finance Web site and unparalleled notification services, we're providing financial professionals with the best Web-based service available," Advent CEO Peter Caswell said in a statement.