Microsoft Sets Plans for Unified Office UI

Dynamics strategy to bear fruit in 2007.

Microsoft Corp.s next-generation applications strategy, formally dubbed Microsoft Dynamics, will at last give users a common interface across the companys Office business applications and provide more control over business processes.

With the completion of Dynamics, Microsoft is for the first time giving users the ability to edit graphical processes presented through the user interface. By 2008, Microsoft is expected to have logic across its applications that uses workflow as a model-driven engine, company officials said.

Microsofts plan to merge its four midmarket business application suites—Great Plains, Axapta, Solomon and Navision—into a single code base is designed to enable business users to use applications based on intuitive role-based interactions and editable business processes.

"Dynamics speaks to specific architectural capabilities—things that are unique [to Microsoft] that we do not see in our competitors environments—roles-based in a deep sense," said Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates during his keynote address at the Microsoft Business Summit here last week. "We believe that by taking business processes and making them very visual, very explicit, people can edit processes and see status of processes; we can do something thats quite different than ever before."

In its role-based approach, Microsoft is focusing on five process areas: operations, sales and marketing, finance, IT infrastructure, and a general area where processes such as personnel scheduling span departments.

Upcoming releases of Dynamics, formerly known as Project Green, will have some roles built in.

Microsoft is looking to its partner community to build more specific role-based, vertical functionality, said James Utzschneider, general manager of strategy in the Redmond, Wash., companys Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group.

The Dynamics build-out will happen in two phases. The first phase, expected in 2007, will provide a common Office UI across the applications. The second phase, due in 2008, will provide a common server base, or business rules that are process-based, said Utzschneider. Enhanced Visual Studio .Net tools will let users go into any event and customize software. A process model that combines the best processes from each release is also planned.

That common server base is something Leif Ludvigsen, administrative director of Objectware AS, an Oslo, Norway, systems integrator, would like to see.

"Its a tremendous challenge," said Ludvigsen. "But if anyone can do it, Microsoft can. They might succeed. The need is definitely there."