Microsoft, Intuit Strike Cloud Pact for Small Business

After jettisoning its small-business accounting product line late last year, Microsoft is aligning with former rival Intuit to help bring Intuit's large contingent of QuickBooks users into the cloud.

In an agreement between the two companies announced Wednesday, Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service will become the preferred platform for Intuit App Center, a marketplace of small-business applications and services launched in October 2009.

"We think there's a big opportunity for developers to build on Azure, a best-of-breed application, and then federate that application into the Intuit App Center so they can get the distribution through the channel that we have," said Alex Chriss, director of Intuit's partner platform.

The two companies are aiming to let their respective developers and channels build and sell those applications to small and mid-sized businesses. Intuit App Center only has 40 contributions to date, but Chriss claims it is gaining traction. The Microsoft deal should help facilitate development and cross-selling of Web-based apps based on the QuickBooks platform, he said.

The pact will also let Microsoft developers and channel partners reach out to QuickBooks customers to develop new apps or those that integrate with Microsoft's core offerings such as Exchange and SharePoint.

"It's another example of vendors joining forces to expand portfolios, capabilities, and provide more complete offerings," said Gartner analyst Tiffani Bova.

As part of the agreement, Microsoft made the beta of a Windows Azure SDK for the Intuit Partner Platform available for download. The SDK includes a Security Access Markup Language (SAML) gateway that provides the single sign-on, said Jamin Spitzer, director of platform strategy at Microsoft. The APIs that provide the data access are built into the SDK, which will be available to developers using Microsoft Visual Studio.

Partners using Intuit App Center can pick applications via Windows Azure, which provides federated access in the form of a single sign-on across all the applications. Developers and partners will also have common billing across all of the apps, unified management and a common data model, Chriss explained.

"We've actually put a common data model in the cloud which includes the QuickBooks data that allows developers to access that data as they build their applications," he said. "Take, for example, a CRM application. You as a developer can build that application and actually call the customer list inside of QuickBooks. So from the small-business end user standpoint, they don't have to do double data entry. As they make changes to their customer list, it replicates across all their applications."

While the agreement primarily gives Intuit partners access and integration with the Microsoft developer and Windows Azure platform, Microsoft plans to offer more hosted services via Intuit App Center later this year. Services such as Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting and Office Communications Server Online will all be made available through Intuit App Center, Microsoft said.

The alliance between Microsoft and Intuit may once have seemed unlikely. After a merger between the two companies more than a decade ago was curbed by the U.S. Justice Department, Microsoft launched its own products but was never able to make a dent in Intuit's market. Microsoft last year pulled its consumer Money product and ultimately Microsoft Office Accounting.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.