Microsoft Fills In Excel Server Plans, BI Push

The much-anticipated Maestro, officially dubbed the Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005, is scheduled to be widely available Nov. 1 and cost $5,000 per server plus $175 per client-access license, Microsoft said Monday.

Maestro can work with the current SQL Server 2000 as well as the upcoming SQL Server 2005. It can build on, but does not require, SQL Server reporting services, and can work with the base Windows Sharepoint Services as well as the full SharePoint Portal Server, according to Chris Caren, Microsoft's general manager of Business Applications.

On a Web conference later Monday, Microsoft will talk about the planned Office 12 Excel services and the SharePoint foundations as engines for its BI strategy. CRN uncovered the Redmond, Wash.-based company&s Office Server plans last year.

A big piece of the overall puzzle will be the Office 12 lineup, servers and clients alike. The goal is to bring BI--once the purview of top executives and business analysts--to everyday workers. Office 12 is due out in the second half of next year. Another objective is to persuade recalcitrant users to upgrade from older Office versions.

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Earlier this year, Caren, a Business Objects veteran, said the scorecarding product would take on traditional BI powers, including Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion. That once again would make Microsoft, an ally of those companies on the operating systems front, a potential rival on the applications side.

Last spring, a Microsoft partner impressed with the then-unannounced product's capabilities said that if the software giant priced the offering aggressively, it could rock those BI players, which traditionally charge a premium for their wares. "Once you get into enterprise realtime reporting, the cost gets to six figures, easy," the partner said.

At the same time, competitors said they would have to wait and see what Microsoft eventually shipped before reacting. Several said Maestro sounded like it was cobbled together from parts scavenged from various Microsoft groups, such as SQL Server Reporting Services and Office Business Scorecard Accelerator. But several partners who saw early versions of Maestro said it appeared to be much more than a conglomeration of stitched-together parts.

Since news of Maestro surfaced, Ottawa-based Cognos has become more closely allied with IBM. Big Blue reiterates that it&s a better platform partner than Microsoft for analytics and BI players because it doesn&t field its own BI applications.

In Monday&s Web conference, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's new Business Division, is expected to discuss how the company hopes to bring analytics to line-of-business managers and other employees.

Caren told CRN that the upcoming Excel serviceswill enable users to store, manage and view Excel spreadsheets from the server. "You can create it on the desktop, save to the server, put it through workflow for approvals, manage it, and have it expire," he said. That spreadsheet can also be accessed via a browser, expanding viewing capabilites beyond peopel who have Excel on their desktops, he said.

The main goal here is to ensure workgroups are seeing and working with the same numbers, he noted.

The "BI to the masses message" isn&t new to Microsoft, but it used to emanate primarily from the SQL Server database staff in the company&s platform and tools group. Now Microsoft is extending its BI initiative to the group that pushes Office desktop--and now server--applications.

Many industry observers see the move as another attempt by Microsoft to entrench its complete software stack--from the latest operating system and Office applications to servers and tools--in more accounts. The company likely will continue to beat this drum on Nov. 7, when SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 are slated to make their formal debuts in San Francisco.

This story was updated Monday afternoon with additional detail.