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Microsoft sharpens Longhorn for SMEs

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Microsoft has admitted its products have neglected the unique needs of small businesses in the past but claims this will all change with the release of Longhorn.

However, the vendor also admits it still needs to do a lot of work to educate its channel, as well as users, before it can expect to tap into the almost legendary motherlode that is the SME market.

Brad Goldberg, general manager for Microsoft’s Windows client business group, told El Reg that previous Microsoft operating systems had not done “anything unique for small businesses”. However, he said, in a first for Microsoft the Longhorn development process has included a “dedicated engineering perspective” on small business needs.

He said Longhorn features such as security, backup, and peer to peer networking would deliver specific benefits for SMEs. At the same time new features in the operating system, such as its web services capabilities or its management capabilities, should throw up new SME opportunities for ISV or services providers.

By presenting a more compelling product for small business Microsoft should also be able to persuade them standardize on a single operating system, Goldberg claimed.

While large corporates have a typical refresh cycle of three to four years, small businesses typically renew every four to six, said Goldberg, in effect only upgrading their software when they bought a new PC. This meant that as they expand, they end up with a range of operating systems as new systems were installed alongside older boxes.

But even if Microsoft does succeed in putting together a compelling SME argument for Longhorn, it still faces a challenge getting it across. Traditional corporate resellers are unlikely to get excited about chasing multiple deals covering just a handful of PCs each. At the same time, retailers typically want to get best value deals on their shelves, which often means having the consumer version of the operating system rather than the Pro version. Upselling to a higher spec version will typically be more trouble than it’s worth.

“There’s a lot of small businesses today who buy the wrong products,” said Goldberg.

Janet Gibbons, Microsoft UK's Windows Client product manager, said the vendor had to educate both retailers and small businesses on why consumer operating systems aren’t appropriate for smaller shops.

The vendor has not announced pricing for Longhorn, though it has committed to not charging a premium for either 64 bit support or dual core in its operating systems. Goldberg said yesterday that Longhorn will be priced in the same bands as its current OS line. ®

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