Microsoft's Rolling SMB Thunder

Friday Jan 14th 2005 by Susan Kuchinskas
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Microsoft takes its show-and-tell for small businesses on the road.

A busload full of computer gear running Microsoft software rolled into San Francisco, Thursday, as part of Microsoft Across America, a year-long traveling road show designed to demonstrate and explain the advantages of Microsoft products for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

The events, being held in more than 250 cities through June 2005, features free, half-day seminars, plus the opportunity to talk to Microsoft partners and get hands-on demos.

Reaching Out to the Underserved
"We're using this as a format to reach out and touch small and medium-sized customers who aren't necessarily called on by a publisher or large software integration firm, or who don't have their own IT staffs," said Jon Witty, area general manager of Microsoft's small business endeavors for Northern California.

At the same time, it's an opportunity to connect Microsoft partners — the troops who do the actual selling — to existing and potential customers, Witty said. A TechNet Briefing seminar for tech professionals was held at the same time.

"Microsoft is beginning to look after small businesses much more," said Konstantin Vilk, managing consultant for the 10-person Pleasanton, Calif. firm I-Span Services that works with small companies as well as mid-sized corporations. "They've focused on delivering better products and platforms," Vilk said. Vilk was on hand to demonstrate software in the truck.

For example, Vilk points out the graphical interfaces for Windows XP and Service Pack 2 make it easier for small business owners to administer their own equipment.

Even small offices benefit from Windows SharePoint, Vilk said. "Every one of our clients who's purchased Small Business Server 2003 is using Windows SharePoint Services to manage their documents."

Dane Bigham, another Microsoft Partner staffing the truck, is general manager of Forte systems, a 16-person integration firm based in Richmond, Calif. Bigham said his SMB customers respond well to the $600 price tag on Microsoft Small Business Server 2003.

"The earlier versions [of the server software] weren't as well-known, and I don't think they were that cheap," Bigham said, adding that even $1,000 is a lot of money to his customers.

Yet Bigham said the SMBs he works with aren't interested in Linux server software, despite its lack of a license fee. While some tech-savvy small business owners have used it, he said, "Most SMBs don't even ask about it."

Taking It to the Streets
In San Francisco, the morning began with a presentation on basic computer maintenance, stressing the importance of keeping software patched and up-to-date. A walkthrough of changes Microsoft has made to improve security was followed by a demonstration of Microsoft Security Center.

Although his specialty is helping small businesses develop a Web presence, Bennett Fonacier, a Web developer with Tri Valley Web in San Ramon, Calif., said he receives a lot of security-related calls from SMBs. The Microsoft Partner Program helps Fonacier increase his expertise and differentiate himself from the competition. After exploring the opportunities for providing CRM capabilities, he plans to focus on SharePoint integration. "There's a lot more demand for that now," he said.

Microsoft Across America coincides with a growing market. Research firm IDC expects SMB expenditures on software to grow 9 percent through 2008, while the number of PCs per business will average 6.9 percent.

The seven trucks on the tour hold HP Tablet PCs, notebooks and desktops, variously enabled with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The computers are loaded with SMB-specific software, including Microsoft Small Business Edition 2003 and Microsoft Business Solutions Retail Management System. The vehicles also feature HP ProLiant servers running Microsoft Small Business Server 2003.

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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