MS's Ballmer talks up CRM Live

Steve Ballmer stressed Microsoft's commitment to its Dynamics applications and talked up CRM Live

Microsoft demonstrated Dynamics Live CRM, its planned hosted customer relationship management software, during the closing Wednesday keynote given by CEO Steve Ballmer at its Convergence show in San Diego.

"I'm really pumped up," said an energized Ballmer, predicting a "real snowball of an effect coming on" in relationship to Microsoft's entire Dynamics business which is gradually moving up into the enterprise applications space occupied by Oracle and SAP.

CRM Live is one of three deployment options in the vendor's upcoming Titan release of its CRM software. Titan will be the first Microsoft CRM release based on a multi-tenant architecture, using a single code base to support three types of usage -- CRM Live, an on-premise version of the CRM application and a partner-hosted release. All three deployment options share a common code base.

CRM Live will be another member of the vendor's growing Live software-as-a-service (SAAS) product family, joining Windows Live and Office Live. "Live is our platform in the clouds," Ballmer said, adding that more of Dynamics will be featured in the future along with Live Search, Mail, Xbox Live and Mobile. "We're pushing the transformation to SAAS as fast as anyone around," he said.

Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, demonstrated Titan pre-release code running on Windows Live data centers in a browser and as an Outlook native SAAS application. He showed a mash-up between CRM Live and a mapping application.

Already in the hands of several hundred partners, CRM Live will begin being offered to customers initially in the U.S. and Canada in the third quarter of this year. The other two Titan deployment offerings will become available around 90 days later, Wilson said.

Pricing for the service and details on when CRM Live will be offered outside North America won't appear until around the time of launch of the service, Wilson said.

CRM is "the most enterprise-focused" offering in the Dynamics range so far, with some user installations ranging between 3,000 and 10,000 seats, Wilson said. Ballmer said the sweet spot for Dynamics ERP and CRM will be "small enterprises and down."

Ballmer reiterated Microsoft's commitment to maintaining its four Dynamics ERP families -- NAV, AX, GP and SL. "We take a long-term approach to all we do," he said. "We're just going to keep investing, investing, investing and investing."

Microsoft's next step will be to continue to evolve its extensibility model for Dynamics so that when the vendor writes new functionality, it'll be able to plug it into Dynamics SL, GP, AX, NAV, Ballmer said.

The keynote included a concept demonstration of a manufacturing application running on a smart table, which was controlled by touch and gestures and searched via voice. The technologies on show will appear in various products in future, with the smart surface debuting in entertainment devices, Ballmer said.

In a question-and-answer session at the end of his keynote, Ballmer agreed with a questioner that Microsoft's SharePoint portal could be seen as "the definitive OS or platform for that middle tier of capability that brings the world of personal productivity [Office] and line-of-business applications [Dynamics] together."

In response to another questioner, he admitted that Microsoft doesn't always get it right in balancing how much it charges for its software and the complexity of its licensing. "I'm sorry if we did some things in Vista that increased the frustration," he said.

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