Microsoft Continues SMB Push

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Microsoft has introduced a new partner program and promotions for its Small Business Server -- two moves designed to help its growing legion of SMB partners get up to speed on reselling and deploying the company's technology.

Demonstrating its aggressive recruitment of new SMB partners, Microsoft unveiled its Empower program, an initiative that provides a 12-month "on ramp" to certified partnerhood for interested ISVs; the company also announced a promotion for its Small Business Server (SBS).

From May 1, 2003 through Sept. 30, 2003, anyone purchasing SBS 2000 and its five licenses can add the Software Assurance (SA) licensing plan for an additional $99 -- a $550 savings over buying it separately. However, any additional licenses purchased beyond the original five are not covered under the $99 SA plan, and this promotion is not covered under Microsoft's Open Value program.

Under the Empower program, ISVs have one year from the date of their enrollment to develop an application on the Microsoft platform. During this period, the ISVs get access to technical support, internal use licenses, MSDN universal subscriptions, newsgroup support and developer workshops. They also get access to the Windows ISV Tour, which spends two weeks each in five locations across the United States (as well as about 10 each in Asia and the EMEA region), welcoming developers to test their applications and identify what they need to complete the work. And Microsoft will provide participating ISVs with sales and marketing tools, including VAR contacts.

"This enables ISVs to engage with us anywhere in the development cycle," says Margaret Cobb, Microsoft group manager for ISV programs. "Before Empower, they only could do that after they'd developed a product."

Early participants are pleased with the opportunity, but acknowledge that it's premature to size up Empower against other vendor programs.

"We're a very pleased participant in this; it's helping us move from an emerging company to a mature, established ISV," says Ellen Pearson, director of business development for Omniva, a 25-employee developer of secure messaging software, primarily for the financial-services, health-care and legal sectors. "The program has streamlined our existing relationships with various Microsoft divisions and has given us improved access to their technology. It will be a very powerful tool for ISVs, but it's too soon to pass judgment on it vs. other vendors' partner programs."

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