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Microsoft To Offer Midsize Business Package

Microsoft has showered lots of attention on small businesses since the introduction of the Small Business Server 2003. This week, the company turns its attention to midsize businesses.

At a gathering in Redmond today, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are hosting customers from around the world along with press and analysts as it makes a number of announcements geared toward midsize businesses, which Microsoft defines as those with 25 to 500 PCs. We’ll be continually updating as news breaks, but we already have a number of stories to tell you about.

Just as Microsoft delivered SBS for small customers, it’s now planning a package geared to midsize customers. Code-named Centro, the package will be built on Windows Server Longhorn and will include e-mail, management and security tools. In a Q&A on the Microsoft Web site, Steven VanRoekel, director of Microsoft’s midsize business solutions strategy, says the package will be similar to SBS in that it’s an easier sell for partners. "What partners have really wanted for their midsize business customers is the same thing [as SBS] -- something that they can wrap their arms around and say here is what Microsoft recommends, designed specifically for you, and it’s going to bring you great business benefits," he says.

It won’t bring those benefits for quite a while, however, as Centro is scheduled to be rolled out "soon after" Longhorn Server, which is scheduled for 2007. In the meantime, Microsoft is promising to build on the Windows Server System Midsize Business promotion that it announced at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July. That promotion offers about a 20 percent discount on a package that includes Windows Server 2003, Exchange, MOM and 50 CALs.

Meet the New MBS: Dynamics
Also at its Business Summit event, Microsoft announced a rebranding of its Microsoft Business Solutions applications, part of its "Project Green" strategy to converge its MBS products over time. The MBS products will now be known as Microsoft Dynamics; so Great Plains, for example, becomes Microsoft Dynamics GP. Microsoft will also deliver versions of the products geared toward 50 of the most common job functions within a company, according to an executive e-mail from CEO Steve Ballmer.

This is an idea whose time has come. Customers shouldn’t be expected to be versed in Microsoft history to fully understand the MBS product line, as is now the case. But the company seems to be taking baby steps toward rationalizing the product line, as separate products will continue to exist through the "wave 1" releases of Dynamics while "best of" features and functions of Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon won’t show up till the second release, in 2008. Microsoft has said in the past that it’s in the business applications space for the long haul. Apparently, this kind of long-term planning is more evidence of that. Do partners and customers need this much time to digest such a change? Let me know your thoughts at [email protected]

Partners Help Ship New Accounting Package
Microsoft also today announced general availability and pricing for Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 and Office Small Business Management Edition 2006. The new Office suite is the same as the already shipping Small Business Edition of Office, but includes the new SBA package. Partners large and small are playing a role in the rollout, with heavyweights like Dell and Gateway shipping systems preconfigured with the software. It will also be distributed by large retailers, including CompUSA, Staples, Office Depot,, OfficeMax and Best Buy. Additionally, more than 75 ISV applications have been designed to integrate with the SBA. A number of services partners, from payroll firm ADP to credit card processing firms, are also getting in on the game.

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Mass. Rebels Against Office
Here’s an item that any partner selling Office will want to take note of. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, long known as a hotbed of rebellion (I say proudly as a lifelong resident), is at it again. The state has proposed making the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) as its standard for office documents. If it’s ratified, the move would effectively displace Microsoft Office in favor of open-source office programs, such as OpenOffice or StarOffice, that support OpenDocument. State CIO Peter Quinn’s simple, two-paragraph statement on the matter has fomented a flurry of press reports, and with good reason: It would be a major blow to Microsoft. Microsoft’s response -- that it supports XML in Office -- isn’t cutting it, at least judging by the comments Brian Jones, an Office program manager, is getting on his blog. Jones expresses dismay over the Massachusetts directive and blames the state for not doing "thorough research" into Office 12. "The reason I say that there hasn't been thorough research is that we won't have our first Beta for another couple months," Jones says, as if Massachusetts and the rest of the world should be expected to wait for Microsoft. I hope partners can come up with a better response than that for the inevitable customer questions on this topic.

Lessons From Katrina
Like the rest of the country, and the world, I’m deeply saddened by the devastation Katrina has caused in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Southeast. But I’m also really angry -- because it was an avoidable tragedy. Ken Kousky, CEO of research and education firm IP3, is likewise angry and makes a cogent argument that we need to pay more attention to risk management in this country. It’s a tough sell, because the money you spend on mitigating risk doesn’t always show a quantifiable return. (Perhaps you’ve run across that dilemma with your customers.) "My opinion as a security professional, as an economist and as a corporate executive is that our problem is a deeply rooted cultural and economic problem," Kousky writes. "It is the same problem that causes us to give back $100 million in a tax cut rather than investing in police that could save 10 fold in reduced losses to crime." Food for thought.

Posted by Paul Desmond on September 07, 2005 at 11:53 AM