Microsoft Recruiting For Windows 7 Small Biz Blitzkrieg

Earlier this week, Microsoft quietly unveiled its Windows 7 Small Business Ignite Program, which gives small businesses a chance to test out the Windows 7 Beta with guidance from Microsoft channel partners.

The program, details of which are scarce, appears to be aimed at convincing small businesses that, unlike Vista, Windows 7 won't actually destroy their businesses and ransack their homes. In other words, it's another effort to counteract entrenched negative views of Vista.

But despite the positive early returns on the Windows 7 beta, Microsoft faces enormous challenges in getting small businesses, many of which are perfectly content running their day-to-day operations on Windows XP, to justify spending for the upgrade to Windows 7. And that would be the case even if the economy weren't in a full-fledged meltdown mode.

"Windows XP is a very stable operating system that all of my clients are familiar with, trust, and have no reason to upgrade from. They will not go en masse to Windows 7, regardless of the price," said Jere Terrill, principal at My Computer Mechanic, a Castle Rock, Colo.-based solution provider.

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Microsoft's small-business-focused partners were among the last to receive the final release of Windows Vista, and that put a big dent in their confidence in Vista's ability to perform in a production environment, according to Mark Crall, president of Charlotte Tech Care Team, a Charlotte, N.C.-based solution provider.

By getting the Windows 7 Release Candidate in small business partners' hands earlier, Microsoft can help erase those bad memories. However, there is no financial incentive for Microsoft partners to sell new deployments of Windows 7 to small businesses under current licensing arrangements, as their only options are upgrade, OEM or Retail licensing, Crall noted.

"Unless you are a system builder, or selling large quantities, then all you can do is wait for their hardware to die and suggest they call Dell," Crall said.

Last November, speculation flared that Microsoft might be planning to offer a "Windows 7 for Small Businesses" edition at some point in the future. This was fueled by the appearance of a Microsoft job posting for a Senior Marketing Manager, whose responsibilities would be to "increase the effectiveness of partner co-marketing direct to Small and Medium Business customers and through partners' extensive indirect channel partners, including distribution and breadth reseller network."

With Vista, small businesses had just two choices -- Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Enterprise -- neither of which fit their needs and both of which were too expensive for the segment.

If Microsoft does come out with a small-business-focused Windows 7 SKU, with a lighter price tag to match, that could help remove some of the barriers and spur Windows 7 adoption, according to solution providers.