With the recent announcement that Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, generally known as CRM5, has gone into public beta, it might be finally possible to say whether it will provide a robust response to Salesforce.com’s (news, site) hold on the CRM market.

Earlier in the summer Microsoft was certainly claiming that this is exactly what it would do, but it’s still early to say yet as we have to wait until the end of this month before we see the final component of CRM 5 with the opening of the CRM 5 Marketplace also in beta.

Beta Highlights

What can be said about the beta is that many of the promises that were made when Microsoft (news, site) started developing it have been kept, in particular the one that said they would be improving integration with Outlook and enabling users access their email accounts directly from CRM 5.

That has happened as has the inclusion of an Office like interface and a context sensitive ribbon that intelligently organizes and presents the most relevant commands depending on the action users are taking, Microsoft said.

Microsoft in some of the many explanatory videosthat accompany thebeta release hasalso highlighted the 'flat' interface, which letsusers scroll down and see all the components of a form, for example asales order, in one window.

CRM 2011_Office Fluent UIt.jpg

CRM 2011 with new ribbon

Two other features that weren’t overly publicized at the time are the ability to build managed solutions and custom dashboards.

Dashboard Designer

While there were some dashboarding capabilities in CRM 4.0, compared with the new possibilities in this release they were relatively limited. With CRM 5, however, users can create their own dashboards using a dashboard designer that will integrate their designs into their views or their data entry forms.

As a result, users can create personal views, add commonly used records and design personal dashboards to measure overall performance or measure performance of different elements.

Managed Solutions

For IT architects and developers the new managed solutions feature will also increase CRM 5’s flexibility. With it, developers can easily create, manage and help protect solutions from creation to distribution through versioning, dependencies and security features.

CRM 2011_Managed Solutionst.jpg

CRM 2011 Managed Solutions

Learning Opportunities

They will also be able to bundle all their customizations and deploy them as a package, rather than having to manage and deploy each one of those components of the solution separately. This is facilitated by enabling developer’s to copy and paste customizations from one customer to another.

User Experience and Connections

The other areas that Microsoft promised it would deliver and has, we have looked at before, but with the beta release let’s look quickly again. There are three main areas that Microsoft has concentrated on.

User Experiences

Microsoft says it has built the new version to ensure that users would be working in familiar environments. Improvements here include:

  • Easy use of native Outlook functions including previews and conditional formatting through tighter Outlook integration.
  • Contextual CRM Ribbon for both Outlook and browsers enabling easier Office navigation.
  • Role-based forms containing data relevant to those roles.
  • Customized views with records and personal dashboards to monitor performance.

Intelligent Experiences

The new version of Dynamics will give better enterprise information, Microsoft says, by:

  • Easy creation of inline charts with business intelligence taken from across the enterprise.
  • Easy creation of real-time dashboards based on up-to-date information to monitor business performance.
  • Easy goal definition to measure enterprise and individual progress.

CRM 2011_Intelligent tools.jpg

CRM 2011: Intelligent tools

Making Connections

Microsoft also says this version will have better connection capabilities for people working inside and connection with those working outside the enterprise. Features include:

  • Organizations using SharePoint can embed document repositories directly in Dynamics CRM.
  • Easy development and deployment of custom code for Microsoft CRM.

The beta for the new Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online service will be available in eight languages and 36 markets, and the final version of the service will be available by the end of the year in 40 markets and 41 languages.

The beta of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 for on-premises and partner-hosted deployments will be available in all 40 markets in eight languages. If you want to sign up and download check it out here.