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Microsoft readies Forecaster 7.0

Microsoft will ship a new version of its Forecaster midmarket budgeting and planning application, the first major release since 2003

Microsoft will ship the next version of Forecaster, its midmarket budgeting and planning application, in early April, the first major release of the software since 2003.

The software giant intended to release Forecaster 7.0 to manufacturing on March 28, senior product manager for Microsoft Forecaster, Gregg Gracheck, said. The product will be generally available early next month. Microsoft also planned to talk up the forthcoming release at its Convergence 2007 business applications conference taking place next week in San Diego, he said.

Microsoft acquired Forecaster when it purchased applications vendor Great Plains Software in April 2001. Great Plains had bought FRx Software in March 2000. Forecaster and the FRx financial reporting software are housed in a wholly-owned Microsoft subsidiary, FRx Software, which has its base in Denver.

Forecaster is aimed at financial professionals like CEOs and budgeting managers at companies employing between 25 and 2,500 staff, which are looking to move beyond budgeting using Excel or Lotus spreadsheets or general ledger systems. "The sweet spot for us is companies with 250 to 500 employees," director of marketing and sales at FRx Software, Gregg Gracheck, said.

Forecaster could help automate many of the manual tasks involved in trying to budget using spreadsheets, he said.

Kamlet sees Prophix Software's Prophix and Centage's Budget Maestro as Forecaster's prime competitors. Companies can use Forecaster to access the general ledgers of any vendor's ERP (enterprise resource planning) software such as SAP and Oracle. If they are already using Microsoft's FRx, users can leverage the reporting software's integration with Microsoft's Dynamics ERP applications to integrate general ledger and budget data from Forecaster into reports generated by FRx.

With Forecaster 7.0, Microsoft has worked to improve usability and to speed up deployment of the tool. The software has more of the look-and-feel of Microsoft's Office suite of desktop applications in terms of its navigation capabilities, but it's Office 2003, not the latest version Office 2007, which shipped earlier this year.

The last major release of Forecaster, version 6.7, appeared in October 2003.

"It's not our intention to keep this amount of time between releases," Gracheck said.

Like previous releases, although it supports multiple currencies, Forecaster 7.0 is only available in English. Microsoft had yet to see much demand for language localisation, Kamlet said. The software costs from $US8500.