Tech Industry

Microsoft steps up small-business push

The software giant releases new Web-based services geared toward small companies and unveils a redesign of its bCentral portal Web site.

Microsoft on Tuesday released new Web-based services geared toward small companies as part of the software giant's effort to bolster its small-business push.

The Redmond, Wash., company also unveiled a redesign of Microsoft bCentral, a Web site aimed at providing small businesses with software and services.

The new services include Web-based tools that help companies plan, launch and maintain a Web site, and a financial manager that offers Web-based accounting to give businesses more control and secure real-time access to their financial data.

Like other software rivals such as Oracle, Microsoft has been stepping up its campaign to win small-business customers on multiple fronts. Many companies including AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and IBM have made strides to tap the vast market of small businesses. Several players have begun offering services fit for businesses with modest revenue and a small number of employees.

In February, Microsoft released Small Business Server 2000 (SBS 2000), which is the company's third-generation small-business suite. The company is selling SBS 2000 as a packaged software, while it also pushes downloadable small-business software and services via its bCentral portal site.

With the redesign of bCentral, Microsoft is hoping to provide companies with a better Internet experience that is easier to navigate.

One of the new subscription-based tools, dubbed Web Site Manager Custom, includes site design, help with domain and e-mail registration, Web site hosting, online marketing tools, telephone support, and other consulting services. Microsoft said it is charging businesses $50 per month for the service on top of a one-time setup fee of $399.

The subscription-based Finance Manager service offers small businesses a number of Web-based accounting applications including software that manages a company's general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and financial reporting. Microsoft said it is charging businesses $29.95 monthly, which will include access for up to five people.

A monthly fee of $49.95 will provide customers with unlimited technical customer support, updates and edits via Microsoft's Web-based editing tool, a semiannual marketing review with a consultant, storage for the Web site, registration with search engines, and other add-ons to help companies set up their operations over the Web.