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Next Generation Application Framework Hits Beta

Last week Microsoft released a beta version of Dynamics CRM 2011. CRM 2011 has been in private preview mode over the last couple of years and is now available for public beta. Over the course of that time I’ve had the chance to kick the tires and provide feedback and see it evolve. I’ve also had a chance to run training events in several countries and see the excitement of the ISVs involved early on. I’m excited to see this milestone hit so it can now get out to a larger number of developers.

Latest Framework, Latest Tools

.NET 4, Visual Studio 2010, SQL 2008 R2, SharePoint 2010 all wrapped up in a pre-integrated application framework is the simple way to describe CRM 2011. Sure it’s good at the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) stuff but the real story from my perspective in CRM 2011 is the continued expansion of the capabilities of using CRM 2011 as the application framework for a much broader set of line of business applications. Is it right for every application? No. But should it be considered? Yes. I love building application plumbing (application infrastructure) as much as the next guy, but in current economic times it no longer always makes sense every time.

CRM and SharePoint – Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter

CRM 2011 introduces out of the box integration with SharePoint for document management. It’s my hope that is the first of more integration between the two products. Separately, neither is the dream application framework story yet, but together they would be unstoppable. I believe the end goal should be .NET, SQL etc. all the raw components at the lowest level. I always call this “some assembly required” because it’s up to you to integrate all the parts. This low level would be used by developers building things like Stock Trading applications with high volume, or real time mission critical systems like running a space shuttle. SharePoint and CRM would be combined together out of the box as a single product. Taking the collaboration and document management from SharePoint and related data and declarative development from CRM

Solution Packaging Expanded

Prior to CRM 2011 exporting and importing used to be limited to customizations. CRM 2011 introduces the concept of solutions. Solutions can contain the customizations plus things like the code for a plug-in, workflow and Silverlight. Solutions can be exported for distribution and then imported (installed) in the target system. They will be a key part of Microsoft’s CRM App Store. Solutions can be locked down to limit what others can customize if needed. More importantly, solutions can be layered and updated in place. This allows applications to be built from building blocks of solutions. Some provided internally, some provided by 3rd party ISVs. Together these solutions represent a complete application.

Silverlight or HTML/JQuery – You Choose

In CRM you create a custom entity (like a database table) you automatically get security, workflow, reporting and a user interface without doing any development work. In prior versions of CRM you could do IFrames that included custom application content. You used to have to figure out how to manage that content on your own outside of CRM. CRM 2011 introduces Web Resources that allow uploading of HTML, JavaScript, Silverlight and more and let it be hosted by CRM. This enables for example a Silverlight application xap file to be uploaded to CRM, and the developer or customizer later can simply insert it onto the form without any development. You can do the same thing with HTML/JQuery if you prefer that style as well. Personally, I believe that Silverlight is a better fit for extending CRM 2011 and that JQuery/HTML is better for building more externally facing broad consumption sites. But again CRM 2011 supports both so you can choose. For those of you that do go down the Silverlight Path, we are working on a CRM 2011 Silverlight book. It will take the core parts of our Silverlight 4 Jumpstart book and add on a bunch of CRM 2011 specific Silverlight content. More details on this will be posted soon but if you want to get started you can buy the Silverlight 4 book and we will have a special offer for you to move up to the CRM 2011 book once it’s released. You can find the Silverlight 4 Jumpstart book here.

Your Cloud, My Cloud, The Cloud

It just doesn’t matter, just pick what works. CRM grew up being an on premise with people installing everything locally. Back in (I think it was) 2008, CRM Online was launched along with the idea of partner hosted. We’ve run CRM internally for years, but with CRM 2011 and the fact that almost everything including deploying code to the server works the same we are planning on moving to online. Where ever possible we have been trying to get out of the server maintenance business and letting someone else do it. CRM 2011 also introduces the ability to connect things together using the AppFabric Service bus. Using the service bus capabilities you can publish events to the other listening applications when events occur in CRM.

Getting Started and how to avoid the Robot

Clearly this is just the beginning, there is so much more to talk about than a single post can cover. To download the beta or sign up for access to CRM Online beta head to http://www.crm2011beta.com. From there you can also hit the developer tab and download the SDK which includes a lot of good information including some samples and walkthroughs. Whatever you do avoid the videos on that site. I would swear the voice over talent used is a robot and will drive you insane after the first 5 minutes of listening. Look for community content to start showing up everywhere now that the NDA is lifted and save the time listening to the robot other things. This one is a bit long (almost 2 hours) but it gives a great tour of CRM 2011, and is a good place to start.

I could ramble on for a while about CRM 2011; in fact this is just the beginning of what I have planned. First of all we have already talked about the Silverlight book that is upcoming; we also will be doing some broader content similar to the CRM 4 book (www.thecrmbook.com). Feel free to post a comment with what you would like covered and how. Book, Video, both we are still trying to decide how best to cover all the new CRM 2011 content.

Cheers,

David Yack

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