Microsoft pulls covers off Project 2010

Calling it the "most significant" upgrade in a decade, Microsoft Corp. today revealed details for its project management application, Project 2010.

The new version will include tighter integration with Microsoft Outlook e-mail and new collaboration features for buyers of the midrange Project Professional version.

Project 2010 will also be the latest Microsoft application to adopt the controversial Office "Fluent" user interface, better-known as Ribbon.

Finally, Microsoft is cutting the number of versions of Project from four to three, injecting portfolio management capabilities from the short-lived Project Portfolio Server into Project Server 2010.

Microsoft is making the public beta of Project 2010 available later this fall, though it is letting people start signing up for it today. Final release is due by the first half of next year, about the same time Microsoft Office 2010 is released, according to Chris Capossela, senior vice president of the Microsoft business division.

"This is the most significant release in more than 10 years," he said.

Microsoft made the announcement during its Microsoft Project conference, which is taking place in Phoenix this week. Capossela, who was general manager for the Project product earlier this decade, is giving a keynote speech at the conference.

Though relatively unknown, Project is used by about 20 million workers, according to Microsoft. It is one of the company's 10 largest revenue generators, Capossela said. "It's a wonderful, quieter business," he said.

For 2010, Microsoft will offer Project Desktop, Project Professional and Project Server.

One new feature is user-controlled scheduling, which is aimed at users who don't require rigid, automatically generated deadlines.

Another feature lets managers whose companies have Project Server assign tasks to employees, who can then provide updates and fill out timesheets through the Outlook e-mail client. Those workers must be covered by client access licenses for Project Server but do not need to have purchased Project Desktop.

"We're trying to widen the funnel down to team participants," Capossela said.

Another example of that are collaboration features such as the ability to view task lists for groups and timelines of multiworker projects in the Project Professional version. This data is hosted on any version of SharePoint, including the free version known as SharePoint Foundation. Previously, such features required users to buy the higher-end Project Server.

Microsoft is also changing the Project user interface to Office 2007's Ribbon. Capossela said the move was necessary because of the many Project commands, which he said "numbered in the thousands."

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