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Cousin Kevin Leaves the Attic: Introducing Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0

Once again, it’s the season when families send out their holiday newsletters, selectively updating the world on their activities of the past year. The key here is “selectively.” You’ll hear all about Sally’s straight “As,” Steve’s game-winning home run, Mom’s big promotion, Dad’s new Harley and Scooter’s litter of puppies.

But you won’t hear a word about Kevin, the slightly odd second cousin who lives in the attic. Nobody talks about Kevin. It’s not that there’s anything really bad about Kevin; it’s just that there’s nothing great to say about him, either.

Microsoft’s CRM product used to be the strange Cousin Kevin of the Microsoft Business Solutions family: Nobody denied its existence, but nobody trumpeted its virtues from the rooftops, either. When I worked for a Microsoft-sponsored publication earlier this year, our editor in Redmond specifically instructed us to steer clear of stories on Microsoft CRM.

The reason: Microsoft CRM wasn’t ready for prime time. Sheryl Kingstone, who covers CRM for the Yankee Group, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, has said that businesses with more than about 50 or so users were skeptical about Microsoft CRM 1.2’s ability to scale as their companies grew. The lengthy gap between releases didn’t do much to boost confidence, either: Microsoft CRM debuted in January 2003, but the company repeatedly postponed releasing version 2.0, ultimately announcing a few months ago that it would skip straight to version 3.0 by the end of this year.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has held just a fraction of the booming $11 billion CRM market, lagging far behind competitors Oracle Inc. (which is acquiring segment leader Siebel Systems Inc.) and SAP AG.

But that could be changing with this week’s release -- right on schedule -- of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0. (The product’s name changed in September as part of a rebranding campaign for several Microsoft Business Solutions products).

Analysts say the long-awaited release represents a significant upgrade over its predecessor thanks to tight integration with Microsoft Outlook and Excel, easy customization capability and the addition of marketing automation tools. In addition to a Professional Edition, the new release also offers a Small Business Edition that runs on Microsoft Windows Small Business Server. It’s currently available in English, with Dutch, French, German and Russian versions scheduled to debut on Jan. 1, and versions in 17 other languages are planned for release early in 2006.

It’s as if Cousin Kevin, after a complete makeover, descended from the attic to rejoin his family and, from there, moved confidently out into the world. It’s too early to predict what will happen next year, but one thing’s for certain: People inside Microsoft and out will be paying a lot more attention to CRM.

Be sure to read Scott Bekker’s analysis of why partner support is so critical for Microsoft’s CRM strategy.

Party Time: CRM 3.0 Launch Tour Schedule
Microsoft will celebrate the long-awaited release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 with launch parties in about 35 U.S. cities from late January through late March. Each half-day event includes demonstrations and other activities.

Partner Plans for Windows Server 2003 R2
Microsoft may have announced Windows Server 2003 R2’s release to manufacturing just this week, but other software vendors, hardware manufacturers and solution providers are already signing up for the R2 team.

So far, more than 30 companies have committed to building on or supporting R2 with their products and services, according to Microsoft. Among them:

  • Gold Certified Partner Quest Software Inc. and other companies are extending Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) to non-Windows platforms, providing single sign-on solutions for applications in extranets and other environments.
  • Gold Certified Partner BMC Software Inc. and other organizations are building ADFS interoperability into existing extranet access-management and identity federation solutions, again providing single sign-on capability for applications protected by those solutions.
  • Gold Certified Partners Citrix Systems Inc. and IntelliSafe Technologies are building ADFS support into applications to provide cross-domain single-sign on and identity federation, using Windows Server identity services in their offerings.

Small Business Server 2003 R2 Timeline Clarified
Microsoft expects that Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 will release to manufacturing in the second quarter of 2006.

That news comes on the heels of Microsoft’s release to manufacturing of Windows Server 2003 R2 on Tuesday.

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Microsoft had said all along that SBS 2003 R2 would come out 60-90 days after the rest of Windows Server R2 because of the need to create specialized wizards and perform other integration that makes the product easier for non-IT specialists to set up and use.

To keep sales of SBS 2003 rolling in the meantime, Microsoft will offer a Technology Guarantee promotion. Beginning March 1, customers who buy SBS 2003 from an original equipment manufacturer or system builder to get an upgrade to the R2 edition a small shipping and handling fee.

Microsoft says the release will help small businesses improve their productivity by providing automated patch and update management throughout their networks, increased mailbox capacity and SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition technology for SBS 2003 R2 Premium Edition customers. R2 will also offer expanded client access license rights for access to additional Microsoft Exchange 2003 and SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition servers in the SBS 2003 R2 network.

Posted by Anne Stuart on December 07, 2005 at 11:53 AM