There is nothing out of the ordinary in the fact that Creative Solutions is implementing integration with Microsoft Outlook for its new practice management application.

That development comes as CSI rolls out the CS Professional Suite, a re-branding of its product line. It is also significantly changing functionality in what is now called Practice CS to give firms a better look at their data, implemented through three different dashboards.

But it's the Outlook move that says more about where the entire market is going. Microsoft is continuing to move forward on the integration and interface wars--the effort to give more applications the ability to work with or have the look-and-feel of Microsoft products, courtesy of the support from third-party vendors.

It's stuff like this that keeps Microsoft on top of the heap. Forget about battles over applications and operating systems; it's interfaces and ease of data entry that really drive how users feel about software. Applications that integrate with Office applications or have a consistent appearance are easier to learn and easier to use. For the people who use these products on a day-to-day basis, that can make up for a lot of sins in functionality.

Microsoft itself has given two of its mid-market accounting lines, Great Plains and Navision, along with Microsoft CRM, the Outlook interface. The company is also scoring with the decision of CCH to provide a worksheet interface as an option on its ProSystem fx Tax. That takes advantage of the almost universally used spreadsheet interface, which, these days, is almost entirely an Excel world. Meanwhile, CCH@Hand lets users access their Tax Research Network accounts without needing to exit Word or Excel.

User resistance is a major reason that software installations either fail or fall short of being truly effective. A major reason for user resistance is the time it takes to learn an application and the lack of comfort with the way different packages look.

If workers don't have to exit their office application to tap into tax research or can email without exiting a practice management package, they get more done.

Above all, this is sabout productivity. The faster workers come up to speed on software, the more time they can spend doing the business of business, not just trying to master technology.

Familiar interfaces are important. And whatever familiarity may breed elsewhere, when it comes to software, it breeds success.

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