A friend jokingly commented that Microsoft would name its newly acquired Navision operations, Microsoft Great Danes, as a companion to the company’s Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions unit. It’s a joke that won’t have relevance much longer when the Great Plains name disappears.

All signs are that Great Plains, as a name for a software operation, will be gone by the end of the year. This is the last month that emails sent to greatplains.com addresses will be forwarded to microsoft.com addresses. In March at Convergence, Great Plains’ user conference, about the only person whose nametag read "Microsoft Great Plains" was communications vice president Michael Olsen. All other employees had, "Microsoft, Fargo, N.D." on their badges.

When the Navision deal was announced, the press release listed Microsoft Great Plains president Doug Burgum as head of the Microsoft Business Solutions unit, under which Navision will operate. (Although, it’s puzzling to be given as easy a target as a name that abbreviates to Microsoft BS.)

It’s a shame to lose a great name. Solomon, at least, is the name of a product line, even though the company of that name has vanished. But Great Plains’ products, Small Business Manager, Dynamics, eEnterprise, don’t carry on the title. Only the lingering, and doomed Great Plains Accounting DOS product gives a hint of its origin. This probably means the company’s colorful wheat sheaf and sun logo will disappear. And I assume that the company probably no longer hands out packets of sunflower seeds, a major Fargo product, at its trade show booths.

I’ll miss both Great Plains and Solomon as names of corporations. They have a ring of people, not the cold clang corporate technology anonymity. I’ll miss them in a way I don’t miss RealWorld, SBT Accounting Systems, or Macola. Maybe it’s Burgum. Maybe it has to do with Fargo.

Great Plains has always had a distinct personality, as evidenced by Burgum’s rambling ventures into history at Stampede and Convergence, speeches about people like Lewis and Clark or Ernest Shackleton, that occasionally tie meaningfully into the world of accounting software. There was also the year that he told an assembled crowd that he hadn’t prepared a speech, and spent 90 minutes proving it. There’s also his masterful question and answer sessions where Burgum takes on all questions.

Then there’s Stampede itself, the reseller conference, that combination of trade show, county fair, religious revival, and college beer blast. This year, it moves to Minneapolis from Fargo for the first time. I wonder. Do they accept checks for breakfast at the McDonalds in Minneapolis, as they do in Fargo? Stampede has also been something of a tribute to excess. It was always amusing when Great Plains bought Solomon, a company whose devout leaders did not allow alcoholic beverages at official events. At Stampede (at least in Fargo), the pub-crawl WAS an official event. After attending Convergence for the first time, I remember describing it as "like Stampede, only for adults."

Stampede was also something of a family affair, when the family owned most of the stock. Burgum’s mother Katherine (Kay) was always present. There were uncles and cousins. There was the pilgrimage and tributes to Arthur, where Burgum went to school. I was always waiting for a story about Doug chopping down a cherry tree as a kid.

But above all, there was always a sense that Great Plains and Burgum stood for something beyond the goal of corporate profits. There was Burgum, several years ago, breaking eggs on his forehead as a mea culpa for a poor release of Great Plains Accounting. There was the annual naming of Great Plains as one of the Top 100 Places to work. They gave every employee a key to the front door (maybe they still do.) The location of hires was shown by pins stuck into a map, with a heavy concentration in the Fargo-Moorehead area.

Honesty, Values. Authenticity. More than just a name.

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