Microsoft Project 2002 projected to be a summer release

Redmond's latest software for planning and tracking business projects should be a go next month. The product is designed to put some sense into business and let the right hand know what the left hand is up to.

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Microsoft said Tuesday that the next version of its project management software aims for the enterprise and will ship next month.

Project 2002 helps managers plan and track projects in a collaborative fashion and analyze real time information. The new version of the software includes a professional edition for corporate project management and a server product for sharing data with other business applications, company executives said.

Microsoft touts this version of Project 2002 as an enterprise-wide project management system. The previous release, called Project 2000, had been used to manage project milestones and record other information. The enterprise version has been beta tested since December.

Analysts said there is a push within enterprises to do a better job coordinating projects and to get a better return on investments for initiatives already in the works.

"Users don't really know where they are with their resources, their schedules and cost," said Melinda Ballou, a senior research analyst at Meta Group.

Ballou said Project 2002 is a step forward for Microsoft, because the company is bringing automated project management to users who had no tools before.

Charlie Zaragoza, a product manager with Microsoft's tools division, said Project 2002 can scale up to about 8,000 resources, which can include any information about an individual, be it skill sets or other general information.

Microsoft has yet to make public any Project 2002 clients, but Zaragoza estimated there are about five or seven major companies that are using the software for enterprise applications.

One of Microsoft's partners, Business Engine, which makes a budget management suite of applications, will be embedding some of the Project 2002 and .NET components into its product portfolio, said Parker Carroll, senior vice president at San Francisco-based Business Engine.

Today Business Engine's software connects to Microsoft using a bi-directional interface which needs to be "kicked off." When Project 2002 becomes available, information will be stored in a repository and collectively used by the Business Engine application, Carroll said.

"It's a tighter synchronization at the database level," according to Carroll.

Project 2002 has several pieces. First is Microsoft Project standard, which is the core program for planning and managing products from the desktop. Microsoft Product Professional is a desktop program that has collaboration features such as enterprise resource management and analytical tools.

It also has Microsoft Project Server, a central platform for storing enterprise information in one location, and Microsoft Project Web Access, which is the Web interface for accessing Project Server data.

The Standard Edition of the software will cost $599; the Professional Edition is $999. Project Server sells for $1,499 and includes five client access licenses. Additional client access licenses cost $179 each.

Ballou said clients who want to upgrade their Project software must do so by July 31. If they don't upgrade for maintenance before that date, they must pay for new maintenance and new licenses for Project 2002.

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