Microsoft's popular project-management application, Microsoft Project, now includes a server component that helps enterprises manage projects across the country. With the most current release, Microsoft Office Project 2003, the company is also selling a package called the Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management (EMP) Solution, which combines Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003, Microsoft Office Project Web Access 2003, and Microsoft Office Project Server 2003 together as a cohesive solution. Here's what you need to know about Project 2003.

On the server side, the new Project Center tool lets executives and project managers track the status of their projects and the resources required at each step. Project also provides a Web-based front end so that users can use a Web browser to add project resources. Dubbed Project Web Access, this interface lets managers check on projects quickly, even while traveling.

One of the biggest advances in Project is its deep integration with other products in the Office suite. Project time line views now show up in the appropriate users' Microsoft Outlook calendar, providing one point of entry for checking on a project's status. But this functionality isn't view-only: Users can also report on their progress directly from a new Project tab in Outlook's Calendar view, and any changes they make through Outlook immediately cascade back to Project Server. (One caveat: If you want to take advantage of Project's client integration features, you'll need Office 2003.) Also, thanks to integration with Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), every time a new project is created on the server, Project Server creates an associated project Web site as well, giving users a place to collaborate and view the status of various milestones from one Web-based interface.

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Project is an interesting upgrade that offers deep integration with other Microsoft products. Some of Project's features are dependent on Windows Server 2003, so companies will need to carefully evaluate the true cost of rolling out the EMP solution. For example, you need Windows 2003 to take advantage of Project's WSS-based collaboration features. Conversely, most of Project 2003's server-based features will run on Windows 2000 as well. Take extra care to evaluate which features you need before you deploy Project Server.