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Microsoft Guns for Salesforce.com with Dynamics CRM 2011

In its bid to take on Salesforce.com and Oracle in the hotly contested market for CRM software-as-a-service (SaaS), Microsoft Monday launched its Dynamics CRM 2011 Online.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer presided over a launch event in Redmond for partners and customers. Though the event was not streamed live, Microsoft plans to broadcast a recorded version on Thursday.

The release is a major new version of Microsoft's CRM platform but is also noteworthy because it is the first Microsoft cloud-based product to mirror the features of its premises-based counterpart. Microsoft is actually making available the online version in advance of the software, which will be released to manufacturing on Feb. 28.

Dynamics CRM 2011 looks to erase much of the objections to earlier versions of the product addressed by competitive offerings. It will have support for improved data visualizations, real-time dashboards and cloud development. Microsoft is releasing Dynamics CRM 2011 globally in 40 markets and 41 languages.

The company has not announced pricing for the premises-based version (it plans to do so around the time of RTM) but is offering an introductory price for the online version of $34 per user per month, a $10 discount available though June 30 for a 12-month period. Company officials argue that is vastly less expensive than comparable offerings from Salesforce.com and Oracle.

Despite their market lead, Microsoft could give the two companies a run for their money, said Forrester analyst William Band. "Oracle and Salesforce have strong CRM solutions, but the aggressive pricing from Microsoft will cause buyers to give Dynamics CRM 2011 a serious look," Band said in an e-mail.

"What we are delivering is full CRM, a better user experience, really simple and agile customization with .NET and ultimately a lower cost for our customers as well," said Bill Patterson, Microsoft's director of product management for Dynamics CRM. "We are excited about what this release means for not just Microsoft but for the CRM market as a whole."

The new Dynamics CRM offering will feature an online marketplace that will let partners and customers find, download and implement custom and packaged extensions. More than 650 partners are listed on the marketplace with over 740 professional services offerings listed. "Every partner and ISV I talk to right now is very excited about taking their assets and sticking them into the marketplace for distribution," Patterson said.

Microsoft said 11,500 customers and 2,000 partners have tested the beta. "What they are telling us is this is one of the most transformative releases they have seen not only from Microsoft's Dynamics CRM but from Microsoft," Patterson said.

Making it so called transformative is the fact that users can get a rich view of their sales, marketing and service data in a common view, through Outlook, a browser and mobile devices  that can be personalized by users. On the mobile front, it will support Windows Phone 7, Google Android and Apple iPhones, Patterson said.

In addition to the real-time dashboards, Dynamics CRM 2011 offers business intelligence capability for both performance and goal management.  Dynamics CRM 2011 runs on Windows Azure and supports connectivity to SharePoint. "This is really where we start to see the power of productivity kick in, and this is the last mile that a lot of business application vendors have failed to focus on," Patterson said.

One Salesforce.com customer that has switched to Dynamics CRM Online is electronic design automation software company Magna Design Automation, which preferred the way Microsoft offers reporting, the flexibility of its change process and the cost, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft intends to aggressively pursue Salesforce.com and Oracle customers and is offering customers who switch through June 30, $200 per user to apply toward services to migrate data or for customization.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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