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Microsoft ships BackOffice bundle

Microsoft begins shipping the latest version of its small business server software bundle.

Microsoft today began shipping the latest version of its small business server software bundle, the company said.

As earlier reported, Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Server 4.5 features a new set of tools for setup, network management, and Internet connectivity. The server suite includes the Windows NT Server network operating system 4.0 with Service Pack 4, Microsoft Exchange Server version 5.5, Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, and Proxy Server 2.0.

After years of selling products to mainstream corporate users, a growing crowd of software, hardware, and networking equipment makers are now targeting the small business market, which makes up an increasingly large segment of the economy.

Analysts say the small-business market will be one of the most heavily Contested battlegrounds for vendors such as Microsoft, SAP, Cisco, and Lotus Development.

BackOffice Small Business Server 4.5 will also include a Microsoft Exchange Connector for POP3 mailboxes that allows users to download email from ISP-provided POP3 mailboxes to Microsoft Exchange. This gives small businesses the collaboration and communication features included in Exchange Server while using a dial-up Internet service provider (ISP) account. This technology is scheduled to be available at no cost for download from the Web by the end of the third quarter, the company said.

"Over 150,000 technology providers participated in the beta testing of this release," Rich Tong, vice president, Business Productivity Group at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Their feedback has been extremely valuable, and we're confident that Small Business Server 4.5 directly addresses their business needs."

Some of the other new features in Small Business Server 4.5 include an enhanced setup engine for assisting users in the installation process with interactive help confirmation pages, a progress bar, and the ability to specify installation directories for applications.

The new server suite also includes an Internet connectivity wizard for configuring the server with an ISP using ADSL, cable modem, ISDN, and other high-speed options.

An enhanced Remote Administration tool uses Microsoft's NetMeeting 2.1 conferencing software to allow managers to administer and manage Small Business Server sites remotely.

BackOffice Small Business Server 4.5 is available now for an estimated retail price of $1,499 for the server and five client workstation licenses, or free for previous licensed users.

Small Business Server 4.5 also offers an increased limit of 50 workstations and integration with Office 2000.

In related news, the software giant today also rolled out a host of software tools to be included in the company's desktop productivity suite Office 2000, now in beta, and due to start shipping June 7.

Microsoft Small Business Tools in Office 2000 are Small Business Customer Manager, Business Planner, Direct Mail Manager, and Small Business Financial Manager.

These tools combine core Office 2000 applications and third-party applications to provide out-of-the-box tools for business tasks such as tracking customer information, writing a business plan, conducting a direct mail campaign, and managing finances.

One tool, Small Business Customer Manager integrates accounting information and customer contacts to create a centralized database that allows businesses to share and track customer information and utilize Office 2000 applications to analyze and act on that data. Small Business Customer Manager works with more than 50 accounting applications and of course with Microsoft Money 99 Personal and Business.

Another new tool, Business Planner is a "business consultant in a box" that provides a centralized information resource combining news and content from the Web and traditional print publications in a personalized, easy-to-use format. Business Planner includes interactive wizards, examples of plans, and Office 2000-based templates to help manage activities related to planning, operations, legal issues, finance and marketing.

The Direct Mail Manager tool is an Internet-based tool that makes it possible for a small business to conceive of, create and finish a targeted and cost-effective direct mail campaign; while the Small Business Financial Manager is a Microsoft Excel-based tool that provides small-business owners with an easy way to analyze and understand key business data through standard reports, charts, business comparisons, and "what-if" analyses.

The Business Tools will be included in Office 2000 Small Business, Office 2000 Professional and Office 2000 Premium. Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Tools are scheduled to be available June 10 through retail channels as part of the Microsoft Office 2000 suites listed above.