Testers Play in Microsofts Sandbox

Web-service add-on code made available.

Microsofts Business Solutions unit and its partners are testing new Web-service add-ons to Microsofts enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management applications by making code available under various Microsoft Shared Source licenses.

Microsoft quietly has been posting these add-ons to work spaces on its GotDotNet source-code hosting site since fall. Like the MSN business unit, MBS is testing potential new products and code samples by sharing them via "Sandbox" test sites, company officials said.

The most recent Sandbox project, which MBS unveiled officially on Feb. 20, is a family of Dynamics Snap tools that are designed to bridge Microsoft Office 2003 with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 and Dynamics AX 3.0 (formerly Axapta) ERP products. Microsoft is making the Snap code for these first Snap tools available under the Shared Source Permissive license. Additional Shared Source Snap tools are in the pipeline, officials said.

The Permissive License, known as Ms-PL, is considered the least restrictive of Microsofts Shared Source licenses, allowing individuals to "view, modify and redistribute the source code for either commercial or noncommercial purposes," according to company officials.

"MBS has been leading the charge internally in using these licenses," said David Dennis, group manager of Microsofts Dynamics/SL (formerly Microsoft Solomon) product line in Redmond, Wash.

But there are other MBS projects incubating in the GotDotNet Sandboxes, too.

In December, Microsoft posted to GotDotNet a mashup of Dynamics 3.0 and MapPoint, its online mapping service. Such a mashup could allow customers to customize the Dynamics CRM contact form to show a MapPoint map displaying a contacts address.

A month before that, MBS made available on GotDotNet for download the Dynamics/SL Business Portal Lite. Business Portal Lite enables multiple browsers—Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Mozilla and others—to be used as a thin-client interface connecting the MBS Business Portal and the Dynamics/SL ERP system. The portal provides users with time, expense approval, alerts, project profitability tracking and reviewing functionality.

There has been a "surprising adoption rate" since Microsoft launched these GotDotNet projects, Dennis said. More than 750 individuals have registered to view code and information in the members-only CRM Sandbox. And more than 110 have registered for the Dynamics/SL Sandbox.

"Mashing up Web services with on-premises applications is something were evangelizing today," said James Utzschneider, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics marketing.

Utzschneider said this kind of mixing is how Microsoft will likely extend its CRM and ERP applications to make them part of the companys overall "Live" strategy. Just as Windows Live is a set of services extensions to Windows, and Office Live is a set of services extensions to Office, Microsoft will be doing the same with its MBS applications, he said.

"Customizing the user interface so its relevant to me"—with RSS feeds, alerts, MapPoint and various mobile extensions—is the name of the game, Utzschneider said. "Role-based composite applications are the moral equivalent of Web 2.0 for business applications."

Microsoft isnt expecting all its MBS mashups and Live extensions to come from inside the company, however. In the Navision ERP world, many of Microsofts partners have grown accustomed to sharing bits of code via public and partner newsgroups, noted Dennis.

"What were doing now are natural extensions of what our partners had been doing all along," Dennis said.

Microsoft will be elaborating on its MBS Live/mashup strategy at the upcoming Microsoft Convergence conference for MBS customers and partners in Dallas in mid-March, company officials confirmed.