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Microsoft wraps up small-business bundle

The software company gets ready to send manufacturers the revamped Small Business Server 2003, which includes a cheaper version of the server-based Windows and Exchange bundle.

Microsoft has finished development work on its Small Business Server software, opening the way for the company to relaunch the line with two versions of the server operating system package.

The software maker said Tuesday that it is releasing Small Business Server 2003 to manufacturing this week. The product, which combines Microsoft's Windows server operating system with its Exchange e-mail management tool and other server-based software, is being repackaged to provide a cheaper "standard" edition for businesses and a "premium" version, which is similar to the existing bundle.

Both the standard and premium editions should be available next month in English-language versions, Microsoft said. It will take until December for all of the different variations--which include localized products for non-English language markets--to be ready, the Redmond, Wash., company added.

As previously reported, Microsoft is changing the way it plans to price Small Business Server--releasing a lower-cost standard version, but raising the fee that companies must pay for each copy of the software above the five included licenses. The so-called client access license jumps from $60 to $99 per copy. Microsoft requires small businesses to purchase one client license for each person who uses the software or for each computer on which the software is installed, whichever number is lower.

The standard version includes Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 together for $599. The premium version, which includes Microsoft's SQL Server database and another program that allows companies to set up a complex firewall to protect corporate data, is priced at $1,499.

The software maker is hoping the low-end standard version will allow computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell to sell a server bundled with the Microsoft software for less than $1,000.

Microsoft is trying to boost the number of small businesses that use servers, as well as lift its own sales of software to smaller companies. While two-thirds of small businesses have more than one PC, only about one-fifth of such companies have a server, according to Katy Hunter, a group product manager for Microsoft.