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Microsoft tries to lure 'mom and pop' companies

Office Accounting Express 2007, which is free, is for home-based businesses that "currently use pen and paper or spreadsheets."

Microsoft released on Monday free business-management software aimed at either the smallest of small businesses or at painfully late adopters.

Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 is for "starting businesses and home-based businesses that currently use pen and paper or spreadsheets" to run their operations, according to the company's online FAQ.

The software is available for free download at Microsoft's IdeaWins Web site. It resembles the Microsoft Outlook e-mail client and integrates with other .

Functions include creating invoices, quotes, receipts and customizable reports, as well as expense tracking, payroll and tax processing, credit reporting, online sales and monitoring employee time. Office Accounting Express 2007 users can also import data from Intuit QuickBooks, Microsoft Money and Microsoft Office Excel, and they can use Office Live to share information with an accountant.

Office Accounting Express 2007 also links to third parties that offer additional fee-based services, including ADP for payroll, eBay for online sales, Equifax for credit checks and PayPal for online payments.

The new product is an example of how Microsoft has been forced to change its business model as more becomes freely available.

Office Accounting Express 2007 will also be included in the Small Business, Professional and Office Ultimate versions of Microsoft Office 2007.

Microsoft recommends that small businesses "with more-complex needs, such as inventory management, multicurrency invoicing, multiuser access and fixed asset management," use Office Accounting Professional 2007, which is set for release in early 2007 for $149.