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The truth is now out there, as Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 beta was released for the public on Thursday, September 9th. As a result, the NDA for the Early Adopter Program is no longer stopping me from sharing some of my thoughts and experiences on the latest and greatest version of CRM. Instead of trying to cover each and every new feature in a bullet list, I’ll focus on the topics which have caught my attention the most.
Some love it, some hate it, but here it is anyway! In an application like CRM where the actions one can perform on a record tend to keep on growing over time as more and more customizations and integrations are applied to the system, the context sensitive ribbon with it’s graphical icons is much more important than in traditional Office apps. While not everyone is happy that CRM 2011 has lost form its tabs after the entity form was changed into one long page with sections, the tabs have infact found a new home on the ribbon. With this UI shift in mind, it’s easy to see why having two alternative levels of tabs was not really an option from usability perspective. In this new fluid ‘n flat world of CRM 2011 the custom tabs on the ribbon will offer a great customization point to insert shortcuts and custom actions that will help the user navigate inside the application.
There are already many nice shortcuts included in the default UI to reduce the number of clicks, which has previously been a common complaint from Dynamics CRM users. One convenient new feature is the Recently Visited button on the CRM main window, which shows a list of previously opened items and lets you pin down the favourite links that are most frequently accessed.
The ease of customization
Usability is a big factor not just for the system end users but also administrators, developers and any type of consultant that needs to spend a significant share of his working day interacting with the application. Back in the previous versions of CRM the number of clicking you were required to do in modifying customizations and various system settings was infuriating at times. I’m very glad to see that the UI enhancements in CRM 2011 have also been extended to the “engine room”. [Read more…]
The number of blogs, forums and news sites revolving around Microsoft Dynamics CRM can feel somewhat overwhelming, especially when you’ve spent some time being “unplugged” from the constant feed of information that surrounds our everyday lives. During my four week summer vacation I did managed to keep my hands off CRM most of the time, but the news and posts accumulating on my Google Reader still kept me quite firmly in the loop. Here’s a summary of a few Dynamics CRM related topics that caught my attention this summer.
Refreshed Virtual PC image with Portal Accelerators
Microsoft released an updated version of the VPC image that comes with Dynamics CRM 4.0 preconfigured, available for download on CustomerSource or PartnerSource. There’s more on it than just CRM, check out the following list for all the goodies:
- CRM 4.0 with Update Rollup 11
- Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2
- SQL Server 2008 SP1 – SSRS, SSAS
- SQL Server 2005 Express Edition
- Office SharePoint Server 2007
- Office Communications Server 2007
- Office PerformancePoint Server 2007
- POP3 Server
- Visual Studio 2008
- Office 2010 SP1
- Windows Mobile 6 SDK and Activesync
The image has been tweaked to include two virtual hard drives (VHD), allowing the swap file to be physically located on a USB drive, which is promised to improve performance by ~30%. How that figure has been determined is beyond me, but the environment works quite well on my Core i3 2.26GHz, 4GB, Win7 x64 setup. It would of course have been super nice to get your hands on a SharePoint 2010 environment, but the hassle of x64 environment virtualization with Hyper-V instead of Virtual PC would have not been worth all the trouble (although I’ve heard VirtualBox should be able to run also 64-bit images without Windows 2008 hosts). Let’s just settle for MOSS 2007 with Office 2010 client components.
What made this VPC image especially interesting to me was the latest versions of the Portal Accelerators. Now, I never really had hands-on experience with the first wave of Portal Accelerators released for CRM 4.0, but from what I’ve heard the results delivered didn’t quite live up to people’s expectations. This new breed of accelerators, on the other hand, is based on the technology found in the commercial products of Adxstudio, who have built a full blown content management system on top of Dynamics CRM. I simply had to test drive the Customer Portal and Partner Relationship Management Portal, after seeing them promoted in Convergence 2010 Atlanta. [Read more…]
On July 12th it was announced in the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC 2010) that there will be no CRM 5.0, instead we will have a product called Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. Not a huge surprise, considering the other Dynamics products like AX and NAV had already moved to this naming convetion followed by the Office family for quite some time now (actually 15 years, if we exclude the odd Office XP release in the middle).
So much for the branding. Underneath it all we will have the “CRM5” engine evolving from CRM 4.0, with quite a few important improvements on how the application can be utilized as a platform for developing your own custom applications, a.k.a. the XRM mantra that Microsoft has been heavily promoting and showcasing between the product version releases. While this side of the coin will surely play an important part in gradually turning Dynamics CRM into part of the core enterprise infrastructure like SharePoint has become, the first thing most new users will see from the application will still be the Outlook client and traditional customer data management functionality. Which is why there have been some big investments from the Redmond boys on developing that side of the CRM product, as you can see from the picture below.
Instead of merely wrapping the web client page into an Outlook frame, the new rich client interface introduces whole new components that attempt to follow the faimilar Outlook UI experience. Tabs will help in keeping the number of pop-up windows under control while the preview pane we’ve learned to take for granted in processing our email inboxes is now also available in the scope of CRM entity forms. Since Dynamics CRM 2011 now comes with the ribbon interface like most other MS products, the CRM functionality now blends into the Outlook toolbar and gets presented in all its context sensitive glory. [Read more…]