Microsoft boosts Project software’s appeal

Microsoft has made some technical upgrades to Project 2007, which went into general release this week along with the rest of Office 2007.

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Microsoft has made some technical upgrades to Project 2007, which went into general release this week along with the rest of Office 2007.

For example, the desktop version of Project 2007 adds features such as task drivers and visual cell highlighting. Those are both designed to make it easier for users to spot changes to project schedules and tasks, according to Irwin Rodrigues, Microsoft’s business director for Project. The new release also lets users undo multiple changes to a schedule or plan, he said.

“Project 2002 and 2003 offered nothing substantial on the desktop,” said Jack Dahlgren, an independent consultant based in Silicon Valley. “With Project 2007, there is finally a reason to upgrade.”

Saibal Sen, director of test quality assurance at Genesis Microchip, also applauded the new features but said his company has no plans to upgrade to Project 2007 at this point. “We’re comfortable right now,” Sen said.

Genesis, a chip design firm in California, has used Project since 1997 to manage its global software projects and currently has about 150 users of the application. Sen said Project “forced us to think about the structure of a plan, so we don’t allocate too many resources or too little”.

Microsoft has also rebuilt Project Server in an attempt to improve its performance, make it friendlier to third-party developers and integrate it with Office 2007’s collaboration features. When Project Server was introduced in 2002, its capabilities were so limited it was a mere “toy”, Dahlgren said. The 2003 update fixed some issues, but the software continued to run slowly.

With the new release, “Microsoft appears to have addressed Project Server’s performance issues, though the proof will be when large deployments emerge”, said IDC analyst Melinda Ballou.

Project Server 2007 also includes a new .Net application programming interface that provides full web services connectivity for developers, who can then more easily create third-party applications on top of the Microsoft software, said Gary Chefetz, CEO of MSProjectExperts, a New York-based consulting firm.

Microsoft also released a new Project Portfolio Server 2007 application based on technology it acquired early last year. That product is designed to compete against higher-end offerings from HP, CA and other vendors, Ballou said.

Mercedes-Benz US has used Project and Project Server 2003 to help it accelerate the introduction of new cars in the US, according to Simon Huang, a technology planning support specialist at the company.

For example, Mercedes-Benz US has been able to double, to 88 per cent, the average percentage of spare parts available at its dealers by the time a new model is launched. Project has “helped us make sure the cages arrive at the zoo before the animals”, Huang said.

Project has also helped the company’s 200 users centralise data in a single repository instead of keeping key information in Excel files on their PCs or in handwritten notes. But although Huang said he is impressed by Project 2007’s new features, he added that his company has yet to start testing the software and currently has no upgrade plans.

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