Microsoft Corp. is working on its latest, best shot at the enterprise applications business with a new project to create a single, global code base for its product lines.
“Project Green” is the Redmond, Wash., companys effort to deliver all its business applications, from its Great Plains Software Inc., Navision A/S, Axapta (which Navision bought earlier) and Solomon Software (which Great Plains had acquired) lines, on a single code base built on the Microsoft Business Framework and .Net Framework. Revamped “Green” applications are planned to debut in the 2006 “Longhorn” time frame.
“Green was named by one of the general managers of Microsoft Business Solutions, who is an avid golfer and thought it represented our chance for a shot, a hole in one on a great solutions delivery,” said Tami Reller, Microsofts corporate vice president for Business Solutions, in an exclusive interview at Microsofts Worldwide Partner Conference here this month.
Green is also the color of money, but whatever the motivations for the code name, Green does promise a major change on the business application front for current and future customers, as well as for Microsoft partners and third-party developers.
The strategy is to enable developers to build a next-generation suite from the ground up with the latest Microsoft tools, including Visual Studio. To accomplish this, Microsoft is taking a best-of approach. “Were leveraging the model ease-of-use and deployment practices of Navision, the event-based customizations built into Great Plains, the metadata-store technology and object-driven development concepts with Axapta, and Solomons Visual Basic foundation for customization,” Reller said.
Some partners and customers have already been briefed on the initiative and welcome it, but they caution that Green is not without challenges. John Parkinson, chief technologist for the Americas at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young U.S. LLC, in Chicago, thinks the biggest one will be the transition through what he calls the “Longhorn discontinuity”—the long time frame.
“Not everybody will jump, and not everybody who does jump will do so right away. But there is this impending transition to a utility provisioning model for business automation services, which will hit the SMB [small-to-midsize business] space hardest first,” Parkinson said. “So Microsoft really needs an answer to that set of business drivers, and Green is the answer. They are spot-on with that initiative.”
A Great Plains user in the Midwest, who requested anonymity, said he is concerned it could be costly to upgrade and train users on Green. He said he doubts that Microsoft will continue to upgrade legacy products—certainly not for seven years or more—after Green is released. “I really need more details on the upgrade path and what will be involved,” he said.
Microsoft officials are taking a reassuring tone and maintain that customers do not have to worry about having to upgrade any time soon. The company is committed to upgrade and support all its current business solutions applications until at least 2013, officials said.
“So thats where you will see two-thirds of our research and development spending going,” Reller said. “For many customers, a move to Green will be a long time after it first releases. We have very real and flexible expectations about that. It wont stop how innovative we get.”
As for the actual migration to Green when the time comes, Microsoft guarantees there will be a path for customers. It will include data conversion, an overall customization conversion and user education. “Its a big, big task,” Reller said.
The migration issue is so important that Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates has become personally involved. “Gates has been extremely pointed about having a migration path and a logic and data migration strategy, given that we will have a single code base and the applications are being rewritten,” said Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of Microsofts Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group.
“It will be awesome if Microsoft can and does deliver on it the way they say they will,” said Bill Marshall, a developer with MC2 Inc., of Stamford, Conn., adding that he likes the Green concept in principle but is waiting for more details on how it will benefit his company.
One potential drawback to having Green on the drawing board for so long is that Microsofts solution partners may decide not to develop for the current stable of business applications but instead wait until Green is released.
Additional reporting by Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft Watch
Discuss this in the eWEEK forum.