Microsoft to Release CRM 3.0

Microsoft Corp. has decided to skip its long-delayed Microsoft CRM 2.0 release and jump right to Version 3.0.

Microsoft Corp. has decided to skip its long-delayed Microsoft CRM 2.0 release and jump right to Version 3.0.

The long-awaited version is scheduled to be released to manufacturing next quarter with general availability in the first quarter of next year. Partners will have access to the new version next month, with a customer beta due to ship in September, said company officials in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft CRM 2.0 was originally planned for the first quarter of last year.

An alpha version of the product became available in the fourth quarter of last year.

In February, Microsoft announced a road map similar to the current one and began discussing the future version as Microsoft CRM 2005. That version has become Microsoft CRM 3.0.

"There are things on the 3.0 road map that our customers and partners asked us to do [for this version], so we rescoped, and the vast majority of the 3.0 road map aligns with what we said [2.0] was going to be, so thats why we changed the name," said Brad Wilson, general manager for Microsoft CRM.

Chief new features in this release include long-awaited marketing automation applications such as list management, campaign management, marketing response management and marketing resource management.

Microsoft will introduce a Small Business Edition of Microsoft CRM with this release that is designed for companies with as many as 75 employees, as well as a subscription-based pricing model wherein customers would pay a per-month application rental fee rather than a perpetual license. Microsoft partners would host the applications.

Microsoft is also focusing on ease of use in this release with a user interface that is "indistinguishable" from the native Microsoft Outlook client interface, Wilson said.

"When we first came out [in Microsoft CRM 1.0], we were based on Outlook, but it wasnt as seamless as we wanted it to be in terms of windows popping up, icons and user metaphors," Wilson said. "We put a lot of effort into redesigning it to be as indistinguishable [from] the normal Outlook experience in terms of screen flow and layout."

Other improvements include support for tracking of e-mail threads associated with customer accounts; a workflow engine for triggering external applications; and improved reporting, particularly for exporting data to Excel spreadsheets.

Pricing for Microsoft CRM 3.0 has not yet been determined but will remain on a per-seat basis, Wilson said.