Morningstar Inc. launched a complete upgrade today of a research and investment software platform used by about one in four advisors in the United States.

The Morningstar Advisor Workstation platform is licensed to more than 120 firms, including the 25 largest U.S. independent broker-dealers, as well as custodians and registered investment advisors.  In all, more than 148,000 financial advisors around the country use the software for investment planning, client presentation, portfolio analysis and investment research.

The new version will be rolled out to clients over several months and, among other things, includes easier navigation and Web technology. Melinda Sgariglia, Morningstar's vice president of broker-dealer solutions, says the improvements are based on nine years of feedback from advisors.

One of the most requested new features is file sharing, which allows any record or file saved in Advisor Workstation to be shared with a colleague who is a registered user. Advisors can customize the permissions to each user and file.

Five modules still are the basis of Advisor Workstation, but Morningstar has made them more functional and easier to use. For example, the Clients and Portfolios Module now lets advisors create portfolios with far fewer steps.

The Research Module has been streamlined so advisors can find securities faster and see more results on the screen at the same time. Research is available on more kinds of investments, including offshore investments, and in early 2011 information on hedge funds, preferred stocks and unit investment trusts will be provided.

The Hypotheticals Module now can generate reports at any step and offers new reports on distributions and withdrawals and a "rolling returns" option to show the impact of long-term investing.

The Planning Module, which already offers risk and needs assessment, will offer an efficient frontier portfolio optimizer and advanced asset allocation features in the third quarter.

The Defined Contribution Module, which helps advisors build and compare 401(k) and other defined contribution plans, in the fourth quarter will offer streamlined workflow for building reports.

Early next year, Morningstar will introduce two other modules: a Real-Time Module that will provide many more research tools, including information on options, commodities and precious metals. The Analyst Research Module will include more than 1,800 stock analyst reports, videos and conference calls, and more.