By Jukka Niiranen, Senior Consultant at CodeBakers

Orion, the next major version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is expected to be released in the second half of 2013. We don't yet have at our disposal a detailed list of changes to be expected, but based on the announcements made during recent Microsoft events we can already point out some key areas that existing Dynamics CRM customers should pay attention to when starting their upgrade preparations for this major new release.

User experience

In the current Polaris version of CRM Online there are two different sets of entity forms available: the "classic" forms with the ribbon and the new "process" forms with the slimmed down command bar. As Orion delivers a new global navigation bar that is present at the top of all the application windows, there will be no place left for the ribbon anymore. Effectively this means that Orion will offer only the new user interface, with no option to go back to the classic forms anymore.

While Polaris does not yet contain all the new UI components of Orion, it's a good way to assess the training needs involved with the version upgrade. Assuming your current CRM users would be dropped into a Polaris environment, how long would it take for them to get back up to speed with completing their day-to-day tasks? One of Microsoft's focus areas with Orion has been in simplifying the UI and making it easier for users to discover the most relevant content from the CRM system, which should help in reducing the overall training needs.

Although Microsoft will likely offer the option to upgrade the existing entity forms to be displayed in the new process form layout, this will surely not be the optimal way to make use of the new UI. And taking advantage of the process visualization features is going to require mapping your current business processes to the new presentation methods and related data structures. It's important to reserve time and resources for updating and testing the Orion forms before rolling them out to the end users.


The current CRM 2011 API's are expected to be supported in Orion, which means the code you write today for CRM 2011 will technically be compatible with the next version, too. Legacy support for CRM 4.0 API's will however be dropped, so identifying and updating such components that may not have been touched when your organization was upgraded to CRM 2011 is something you can start with already today in preparation for Orion.

The auto-save feature of the new forms means that you shouldn't design your process around the concept of a user submitting the form fields by clicking on the classic save button. In particular, remember that any plug-ins that may be triggered from the repeated save events taking place in the new forms will need examination to avoid performance issues or problems with existing integrations to other systems.

On the UI front there will be some major changes as the different components get rearranged into a widescreen form layout with no ribbon or left navigation. Similar to the forms upgrade, existing scripts should technically have a supported upgrade path to Orion, but this doesn't guarantee the overall application will function as expected when the surrounding CRM UI changes. Once Microsoft makes a beta version of Orion and its SDK available, learning about the scripting-related changes on the new forms will be a top priority for developers, as the current Polaris forms did not yet contain support for common script-based extensions.


Compared to CRM 2011, you could in fact say the next version of Dynamics CRM will have a significant share of its new functionality delivered as "out of the box add-ons" based on recent acquisitions. Yammer and Skype integrations have been made available to CRM Online customers in the Polaris release, along with the in-house Bing Maps. MarketingPilot and NetBreeze will be key ingredients in the recipe for building the next generation marketing module for Dynamics CRM.

Current on-premises customers will most likely need to upgrade their CRM system to the Orion version in order to be able to fully connect with these integrated services. Also, Microsoft's long overdue tablet and mobile clients will be offered without any additional user based license costs, but the CRM server will surely need to be running the latest version of the software to make use of them.

The ISV ecosystem, the suppliers of so many Dynamics CRM add-ons, will naturally need to upgrade their own products to be compatible with Orion. Microsoft partners who are actively seeking participation in the beta programs to gain early access to Orion should be in a good position to ship an upgraded version of their product close to the release date of the next Dynamics CRM major version. Add-ons with a less active development team behind them may face challenges in keeping up with the platform upgrade, including the need for UI re-design work to fit into the new Orion user experience. Current customers should identify any potential dependencies to third party solutions where support has ended and look for alternative products to deliver the required functionality once they upgrade to Orion.