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Microsoft puts new face on small-business site

The software maker folds its bCentral portal into its new Small Business Center, a Web site catering to companies with modest staffing and information technology needs.

Microsoft has revamped its online outlet for small businesses, a market segment from which it's hoping to make big bucks.

On Tuesday, the software maker unveiled its Small Business Center, a Web site catering to the needs of companies that often have just a handful of employees and a modest amount of information technology.

The site was activated earlier this month in Australia, Japan, Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom and is slated to become available in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. Each country will make its own launch announcement in the second half of 2004, Microsoft said.

In the past year, Microsoft has been making a serious effort--to the tune of $2 billion--to win over small and midsize businesses. Taken separately, those companies don't spend much, but altogether, businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees account for some $420 billion in spending, including software, hardware and services, the company has said.

The Small Business Center is designed to provide tailored business advice, customer support options, and information about Microsoft products and services. It takes over for the company's bCentral portals, which also had been designed with small businesses in mind and which had been available in seven countries.

Microsoft said the change came in response to feedback from customers.

"We heard their requests that they want to be able to get their products and services from a single, unified location," Steven Guggenheimer, vice president of small business at Microsoft, said in a statement.

Microsoft applications geared for the market include Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Office Small Business Edition.