Microsoft Drives into Portal Market with New Dashboard

Not to be outdone by swarms of vendors offering Web-based portals to enterprise data, Microsoft Corp. ( rolled out an updated model of its own portal-building technology. Of course, in classic Microsoft style, its portal solution is tightly integrated with its Outlook e-mail client and Windows operating system, as well as the Web.

The software giant is shipping version 2.0 of its Digital Dashboard Resource Kit, which enables companies to link e-mail, calendar entries, and application data to personalized Web pages.

The toolkit includes XML-based components called Web Parts, which serve to deliver content and services to end users' Digital Dashboards. Developers can create customizable Digital Dashboards that bring together personal, corporate, and Web-based information, as well as link to analytical and collaborative tools. Web Parts also serves as a plug-in for its Visual InterDev developer toolkit.

The new toolkit also provides sample dashboards, the framework and tools for building Web Parts, and a catalog of ready-to-use Web Parts. Web Parts lets developers to structure the delivery of Web-based content and services, such as e-mail and calendar functionality, customer management data, training information, or news feeds, says Bob Muglia, group vice president of the business productivity group at Microsoft. Web Parts can deliver any Web-based content, such as XML, HTML, or script.

Digital Dashboard takes "all that information that's out there and actually being able to bring it back and categorize it, provide a view that is appropriate for the user, regardless of where that information is stored," says Muglia.

In the case of one early adopter, Reuters Group PLC (, which provides financial and news organizations with real-time financial data, the need for tight integration with its Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server 7.0 environments made Digital Dashboard preferable to other portal solutions. Reuters' Digital Dashboard implementations enable its customers to download financial data and news updates directly from the Web to their Outlook clients.

"The Digital Dashboard is a fantastic place to aggregate content on your desktop. You can have streaming data, news, and all sorts of information presented in the way you want to see it," says Chris Lord, director of global technology for Reuters. Reuters is involved in supplying financial and news organizations with real-time financial data -- a fast-paced challenge. "Delivering the right information to our users is a constantly shifting target," Lord says.

Reuters existing products reside in a separate window on its customers' computers. Within the Outlook-based Digital Dashboard, Reuters provides selected company price quotes, converted from Reuters' proprietary quote streams to XML, then bound to DHTML-based "mini-quote" tables. The presentation includes a graphical plotting of price changes. The Reuters environment also includes live news feeds, as well as standard Outlook features such as an e-mail in-box.