Released! CRM 2011 Beta. My Favorite Features

The last 3 years of a lot of people's work have been released and it ROCKS! The CRM 2011 beta is live!

Beta is a quality, feature complete release of CRM 2011 that will help us fine tune the last set of pieces for the official release of CRM 2011. There are A TON of features and enhancements on the product but people always have favorites right? Here are my top 5+; yes, totally biased because my team worked on many of them J

· Solutions Management: We took development of business applications on top of the CRM framework to a whole new level. We introduced the concept of unmanaged and managed solutions that allow you to define business applications to bundle your components, transport them, deploy them in all flavors(on-premises and online) and all clients(web and outlook) of CRM 2011, update them (while preserving end user customizations), uninstall them if necessary, restrict customization of selected components, automatic dependency tracking etc.

o Unmanaged solutions represent the “source” (so to speak) of your application and allow developers to create and update applications and also allows those that are used to work with CRM4 to use the same techniques they were accustom to customize CRM (just customize it)

o Once a solution is ready for final distribution it can be exported as managed. When the solution is installed as managed the framework enforces restrictions established by the developer (e.g. prevents customizations if the component is not customizable) and tracks changes performed on it as such, customizations “on top”. Multiple managed solutions that customize the same component are automatically handled by the framework and changes to key components such as forms, ribbon and sitemap navigation are merged. Any subsequent updates to the solution give the option to preserve existing customizations or to overwrite them; all without having to write a single line of code or complicated installers.

You will see a lot more material on this (solutions management is a vast topic) including information about the Dynamics Marketplace but you can start by looking into some of the enhancements on this video (see Video 9):

Next week I’m slated to appear on a “meet the team” video explaining a bit more the whole feature set and giving a demo so stay tuned.

· Web Resources + oData endpoint. This is by all means the feature with the most bang for the buck for CRM developers. It completely unlocks the client side extensibility capabilities of the CRM framework. Instead of forcing developers to learn new languages Web Resources allow them to use familiar technologies such as: HTML pages, rich Silverlight applications, images, style sheets, xml and more. You can extend Forms, Dashboards, Ribbons; create your own stand-alone pages, libraries, etc. while the framework takes care of storage, rendering and caching of the resources. Web Resources work On-Premises, Online and they also work in Outlook, both online AND offline. If you add on top of that our new RESTFUL endpoint you have a killer combination: rich UI + rich server side interaction. Did I mention that now we also support multiple handlers for the same form/field event? Oh yes, we do J

 Check them out at (video 2)

· Charts, Dashboards and Filtering. Those sexy graphs with real time insight and drilldown capabilities are killer features for CRM 2011. A lot of competitors do dashboards and charts, they are not really new to business applications but the way CRM 2011 delivers them is unique, they allow you to Navigate your system while drilling into data. You can also extend dashboards with your own controls using Web Resources.

· The new Outlook Client. Yes, I’m talking about a whole new client completely revamped for CRM 2011. With many familiar feature but with lots of new goodies that seamlessly blend CRM and Outlook. You can now take advantage of native outlook grids, reading pane, categories, filters, support for multiple organizations, streamlined installation and updates and much much more. Any custom solution automatically flow into the outlook client without having to write a single line of C++ code; all your form customizations, web resources (yes, Silverlight too), ribbon modifications, dashboards, charts, they all work in the outlook client too. This is a close as it gets to the holy grail of “code once, use everywhere” J

· Form Editor and Customize Tab.   I list them together because it was the same feature team (not me btw) who made them happen. The new Form Editor speaks for itself: drag and drop, rich controls, navigation editing; now it is just plain fun to edit forms. The Customize Tab has an interesting story behind; now everybody loves it because right from almost any object you just click “Customize” on the Ribbon and make whatever changes you want; it seems like a no brainer right?… but the love was not always there and in fact at some point on the release we weren’t sure if it was going to make it. Literally one day the Tab just showed up and everybody realized that we had to finish it; now is one of the most demoed enhancements on CRM 2011; customization at your fingertips J

· Hidden Gems. I’ll probably write more about these additional features but wanted to at least list them here initially:

o Dialogs. Not really a hidden gem, in fact a pretty hallmark feature for this release so I suspect you’ll hear a lot about it. Wizards anybody?

o Global Option Sets. The new fancy name for global picklists. Finally, define an option set once and use it in multiple entities

o Filtered Lookups. Indeed, we got them in! You can now declaratively filter lookups based on relationships by just configuring them on the form editor or, for more advanced users, you can create brand new views on the fly using the client side API. Want to filter based on dynamics values on a form? You got it. No hay problema!

o Most Recently used items in lookups. That’s right, now lookups remember the items you frequently select; the next time you type something the UI will automatically show you recent items to pick from without having to launch the full lookup dialog.

o New SOAP Endpoint. Totally based in .Net 4 and WCF the newly revamped endpoint makes it a snap to interact with CRM back and forth.I’m personally a fan of the oData (REST) endpoint instead but hard core .Net developers will love the new WCF endpoint.

o Claims Support. People might not realize the potential that supporting standard claims authentication have but trust me, this is a game changer but I’ll let the security expers on the team speak of it J