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Microsoft to tackle business reports

New product will put software titan at odds with Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion.

Microsoft on Monday revealed plans for a new software product designed to let workers slice and dice sales, accounting and other key business data.

Microsoft expects to deliver a test version of the new product in September, Lewis Levin, Microsoft's vice president of Office Business Applications, told a group of reporters. He said that a select group of users is now testing the product, which is code-named Maestro.

"It's part of a broadening set of investments we're making in business intelligence," Levin said of the product.

The Maestro project comes out of Microsoft's previous foray into the business-intelligence software market with a couple of free products: Reporting Services for SQL Server and Business Scorecard Accelerator. The company plans to charge a license fee for Maestro, but executives were not ready to discuss prices on Monday.

Microsoft views business-intelligence software as a $3 billion to $4 billion a year market, Levin said. Maestro is aimed directly at the top companies in that field, including Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion, he added. They each make programs that deliver reports and alerts to business managers, indicating how a company is tracking with sales and profit targets and other performance goals, such as returns, warrantee claims and discounting levels.

Maestro requires the use of several other Microsoft programs, including the company?s database program, SQL Server, and SharePoint, a data-sharing tool. The Maestro software resides largely on a server, rather than a desktop PC. Customers can also feed Maestro with data from other business systems, such as those from SAP, Oracle and Siebel Systems, Levin said.

Maestro is an improvement on the free software it is based upon in several ways, Levin said. It can work with more data sources, is easier to design and set up, and is more user-friendly and interactive, he said.