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MS markets to franchisers

Expanding its small-business initiatives, Microsoft will announce efforts to target its intranet/extranet software to franchise operations.

Expanding its small-business initiatives, Microsoft (MSFT) tomorrow will announce efforts to target Microsoft intranet/extranet software for franchise operations.

The initiative is being unveiled today for more than 100 franchisers with 30,000 small business licensees attended, including hotelier Marriott International and package shop Mail Boxes Etc. The program will let franchise operations automate information-sharing and distribution between headquarters and franchised stores.

Microsoft's franchise solution automates the exchange of information now shared by phone, fax, U.S. mail, or overnight delivery service.

The initiative is designed to reduce costs, let field operations search franchiser databases and bulletin boards, and set up secure chat forums between headquarters and field operations. It also will generate reports, manage databases, and handle orders, fulfillment, and personnel data.

Marriott, the world's leading hospitality company with 4,700 operating units and $10.2 billion in sales, initially will extend its intranet to more than 500 hotel franchisees. Mail Boxes Etc., with more than 3,300 centers worldwide, plans to add email accounts and Internet access using Microsoft technologies. Microsoft said earlier it is working with fast-food franchiser Burger King.

Microsoft's initiative uses Windows NT 4.0 Server, SQL Server 6.5, Microsoft Exchange 5.0, Internet Information Server (IIS), Microsoft Commercial Internet System, ActiveX technology, and Internet Explorer 4.0 browser.

Company resellers will work with franchisers to develop, implement, and support customized intranet/extranet systems. The franchise initiative joins Microsoft's family of small-business offerings, including software for professional associations going online.