By DON CLARK
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
October 24, 2005

Microsoft Corp. is stepping up its attack on a new software market -- the data-analysis programs offered by companies like Business Objects SA and Cognos Inc.

The Redmond, Wash., company today is announcing plans to begin selling on Nov. 1 a program called Business Scorecard Manager that helps turn sales and customer data into report cards about portions of a company's business. The product, which runs on server systems, is designed to exchange data with other Microsoft programs such as its SQL Server database and parts of its Office suite of desktop programs, particularly the spreadsheet Excel.

Scorecard Manager carries an estimated retail price of $5,000 a server, plus $175 for each PC user that makes use of the software. Microsoft officials say the price sharply undercuts rival products, part of a strategy designed to popularize such tools beyond the small number of trained analysts that typically use them.

"Our view is that decisions are made at all levels of an organization," said Lewis Levin, a vice president in Microsoft's office group. "It's got to be cheaper, and it's got to be easier."

The product, originally code-named Maestro, has been a hot topic since last spring in the market for what are sometimes called business-intelligence programs. Competitors say Microsoft isn't offering anything significant that isn't already in their own products and that their products draw information more efficiently from popular business applications offered by SAP AG, Oracle Corp. and others.

"Not only is Microsoft late, but we are doing a lot faster innovation on their own platform than they do," said Rene Bonvanie, Business Objects' chief marketing officer.

Microsoft has a tendency to grind away in new markets until it offers good enough technology to draw a sizable audience. In this case, it also is talking about adding new business-intelligence features as free additions to Office 12, a version of the software suite expected in the second half of 2006.

"Longer term, competitors will have to shift their product plans," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group, a market-research firm. "Customers will start saying, 'Tell me again why I have to pay for this twice.' "