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BackOffice for small business

Microsoft debuts a scaled-down BackOffice server application bundle for small-business owners that has already won industry support.

SAN JOSE, California--Having already announced plans to develop an upscale version of its BackOffice server application bundle, Microsoft (MSFT) will today turn its attention to small-business owners with the debut of a scaled-down BackOffice package.

The company today announced the shipment of BackOffice Small Business Server. As reported by CNET?S NEWS.COM on August 29, the business application bundle is targeted at companies with up to 25 employees.

Hardware, software, and networking equipment makers already back Small Business Server. Companies announcing support for the server include NEC, Compaq Computer, Seagate Software, 3Com, Peachtree Software, and other vendors.

But some analysts have doubts. "If you're starting fresh, this will work for you. I can see the benefit of what they are doing," said Jean Bozman, analyst with International Data Corporation. "The only concern I have is the nature of the Microsoft eco-system ? what if these people have an older database? What if these people use Netscape Communications?"

After years of selling products to mainstream corporate users, a growing Open for small business 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. The primary target of Microsoft's assault on the small business community is Novell, a company with roots in the market that has lost ground to the growing popularity of Windows NT, according to analysts.

Microsoft Small Business Server includes several of the applications packaged in the standard BackOffice bundle and adds a handful of new features aimed at making installation, setup, and management easier.

The bundle is priced at $1,499 for a five-user license, and at $2,459 for a 25-user license. The standard BackOffice bundle is priced at $2,499.

A bundle consisting of a five-user version of Small Business Server and a five-user version Microsoft Office 97 Professional Edition will debut early next year, priced at $2,899, Microsoft said.

Small Business Server includes the SQL Server database, Windows NT Server operating system, Internet Information Server Web server, the Exchange email and groupware package, and Proxy Server. Systems Management Server and SNA Server, found in the standard BackOffice bundle, will be omitted from the Small Business Server.

The overall goal of the bundle will be to make it as easy to use as possible, according to Microsoft officials, as it is targeted at many of the same companies that may not know what computer software can offer their operation. Microsoft has created all-new installation and management tools to be included in the Small Business Server that help novice users through the setup process.

"If you're a small business today, it is still too hard to satisfy your computing needs," said Steve Ballmer, executive vice president of sales and support at Microsoft. "There's a real breakdown."

Obvious reactions to this dilemma include implementing a single domain structure within Small Business Server. Domains in Windows NT are often the target of network administrators, who, at times, find management of their network with the present structure unwieldy. Broad use of helpful "wizards" to guide users through a setup process stands out as evidence that the company would like to hide as much of the underlying software infrastructure as possible.

User and resource management will be consolidated into easy-to-use tools in the Small Business Server. Tools to centrally distribute applications also will be included.

Demand from this event's audience makes it likely that a multi-user version of Small Business Server will soon be offered. Currently under development for NT 4.0, the multi-user technology, code-named Hydra, allows different types of client machines to attach to an NT network.

As reported by CNET's NEWS.COM last December, Microsoft has been planning to offer specialized versions of its BackOffice package for many months. The company has already debuted a BackOffice derived package intended for Internet service providers, and in May disclosed plans to build a high-end version of BackOffice, called BackOffice Enterprise Edition, for supporting thousands of users.