Microsoft Small Biz Accounting To Start At $149

Pricing will be among the news to be announced Wedneday at the Microsoft Business Summit at its Redmond, Wash. campus. The package is expected to support five users.

The standalone "Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006" will list for $179 but ship with a $30 mail-in coupon. The Office suite version, officially "Microsoft Office Small Business Management Edition 2006 with Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006" comes with a $100 dollar rebate. All SKUs are expected to ship this week.

The full suite includes Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager Update, and the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint , Publisher and Access .

Microsoft has thus far only said that the standalone version, with which it plans to wage war (again) with Intuit's QuickBooks, would be "under $200."

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QuickBooks Basic lists for $199.95 or $99.95 as an upgrade. The popular QuickBooks Pro is about $100 more but with rebates can be had for about $180.

Microsoft has taken on Intuit and its lucrative QuickBooks/Quicken accounting/home finance franchises before, but without much success. Both Microsoft Profit and Microsoft Money failed.

But some say this time the company has listened to a critical constituency—accountants--more than in the past. While not usually selling the software itself--accountants influence the accounting packages small- and home-based businesses use. Intuit, Mountain View, Calif., has an army of such accounting influencers for QuickBooks.

The Office tie in might be attractive to companies who want to upgrade Office anyway and figure the accounting add-on is a needed perk. Many small businesses have no accounting software at all and run their businesses on Excel. That is one reason even Intuit touts tight QuickBooks-Excel linkages.

Some Microsoft partners lauded Microsoft's decision to team up with name-brand partners like ADP for payroll processing and Chase Merchant Services for credit card processing, as key benefits as well.

Jason Harrison, president of Harrison Technology Consulting, Nashville, N.C. small business solution provider is sold, although he will continue to work with both Intuit and Microsoft products.

While SBA is "still a 1.0 release and has room for improvement, in general it is very competitive head-to-head with QuickBooks," he said.

Harrison said SBA has better multi-user capabilities and a stronger database underpinning with its use of SQL Server MSDE than QuickBooks.

QuickBooks database "chokes once you have a lot of names in there, it just clogs up," he noted.

Intuit is not standing still. It pre-empted Microsoft's September 7 news by announcing QuickBooks 2006 two weeks ago. The product, which promises new inventory management and accounting controls and faster performance for medium-sized businesses, is due this fall.

With SBA, Microsoft is playing to yet another partner constituency in accountants, as well as retailers, direct-mail houses, and hardware OEMs. Microsoft Business Solutions execs including COO Orlando Ayala and Senior Vice President Doug Burgum have stressed that business applications for SMBs are a key focus for the company.

SBA is a key move at the lower end of that spectrum, while Great Plains, Axapta, Navision and Solomon battle Sage Software, SAP, and others for mid-market mind- and market-share. Wall Street and other observers said Microsoft has yet to reach its potential in SMB applications and the company has pledged to continue investment there.

Microsoft's business applications push has alienated some MBS partners, some of whom were so miffed by Microsoft's about-face on its CRM channel strategy that they've left the fold and allied themselves with Sage Software, or others. These partners maintain Microsoft's traditional fast-sale, volume-oriented approach is not suited for business applications.