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Microsoft Betas Software for Smallest Businesses

Microsoft released a beta version of Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting, aimed squarely at customers of Intuit's QuickBooks.

The product aims to bridge the gap between Office and the mid-market ERP and accounting applications offered by Microsoft Business Solutions.

The product will be available as a standalone called Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting. It will also be licensed as a bundle with Microsoft Office 2003, integrating with an updated version of Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager.

"There was a hole in MBS for something serving the low end of the market, something that's affordable and easy to use," said David O'Hara, Microsoft vice president for small business. "It's targeted for even smaller businesses than MBS products."

The software is aimed at the same market Intuit's QuickBooks serves, O'Hara said. Microsoft attempted to acquire Intuit , but dropped the idea in 1995 in the face of the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust concerns.

Microsoft said the new package will help small businesses manage customer relations, financial and business processes from one platform. They'll also be able to migrate to other MBS offerings as their businesses grow and become more complex. For example, a small business might begin by managing customer information and contacts with Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager, then graduate to Microsoft Business Solutions CRM.

The software is designed for businesses that want to install the software themselves, don't need customization and want something easy to use. The offering will cost only hundreds of dollars, O'Hara said. If a company needed deeper functionality or customization, it should go for the higher-end MBS offerings, which include the Axapta, Solomon, Great Plains and Navision ERP products, along with FRx, a financial reporting tool.

Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting was developed jointly by the Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) and Microsoft Office teams, a first for the company, O'Hara said. Cross-team collaboration was a big breakthrough, he said. "We see great opportunity for two groups that have been serving two markets to come together on products."

The software includes an optional integration with payroll processing and services from Automatic Data Processing (ADP), accessible from a button within the application interface. Customers can license the ADP software, developed especially for Microsoft's for an additional fee. ADP released the product in beta along with Microsoft's; ADP executives weren't available for comment.

Microsoft hopes partners and ISVs will build vertical and horizontal applications on top of the software. To that end, it's shipping a software development toolkit along with the beta version of Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting.