Beginning in April, end users will see extensions of Great Plains Version 8.0, and by the end of 2005, Version 8.5 will be available, along with Business Portal 3.0, according to Microsoft executives speaking at last week's Convergence 2005 confab. Jeff Young and Dave Coulombe told Convergence attendees that Excel integration with Great Plains will also be enhanced to include another level of functionality, such as deeper access to "slice and dice" data more quickly, and a more inclusive dashboard. A move towards more Web-centric features will also be apparent, as Version 8.5 will provide more Web and integration services to extended portal applications. The duo said that this upcoming release of Great Plains will also include automatic upgrades, a customizable home page in the Business Portal software, along with an Extranet page built-in, and a set-up checklist. A major crowd-pleaser at the meeting was the unveiling of a newer and more customizable Smartlist builder. The upgraded tool allows users to link to as many as 32 different pivotal tables. The next version after that -- 9.0 -- will be a bigger move towards the Web. The 2006 release will be a fully .Net-enabled application, said Coulombe. However, Doug Burgum, senior vice president for MBS, said in a separate question-and-answer meeting later that MBS has no plans as of yet to produce a browser-based software application. Burgum said that there was not enough demand for the products today to warrant the investment, and MBS didn't want to make current users feel that their server-based products were becoming obsolete just yet. "There may come a time in the future," said Burgum, but "we don't want to kill our own progress with visions of our future." By the winter of 2006, Great Plains 9.0 will be released, along with Business Portal 4.0. And two years down the road, Great Plains Version 10.0 and Business Portal 5.0 will be unveiled.

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