New & Improved Microsoft: Push to Hosted Apps (MSFT’s SMB Conscience Speaks Out)

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak with Birger Steen, Microsoft’s VP of SMB & Distribution, World Wide Small and MidMarket Solutions and Partners.

If there’s one person at Microsoft whose job is to ENSURE that Microsoft meets the needs of growing businesses (that’s you) – Birger is the man. Microsoft has managers who are in charge of Microsoft’s products and managers in charge of marketing Microsoft’s products. Birger, who has a lot of global experience, is tasked with ensuring that the VOICE Of the small business customer is at the forefront of Microsoft’s efforts.
However you look at it, Microsoft has been serving the needs of businesses, including small businesses since it’s inception. The “PC” has been used by businesses of one size or the other since the 80’s.
Today, We all use Windows (be it XP, Vista, or Windows 7), Microsoft Office and our servers use Windows Server or Microsoft Small Business Server.
The “new and improved” Microsoft is still going to have at its core a Windows operating system on the PC (or phone), Microsoft Office and a server component (Windows Server or Microsoft Small Business Server for smaller businesses).

Birger shared that Microsoft is going to aggressively push Microsoft online services – which include Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite – hosted solution (no software to install) for businesses with five users and up.
While Microsoft has clearly won the “war” for the desktop of the PC (i.e., Office and Windows) the war for the software we use through our web browsers appears to have no clear winner. Google and dozens of other hosted application providers such as Zoho, Freshbooks, and more are all fighting (and often working together) to own a larger share of the hosted application market.
(Check out The Small Business Web)
Cost is a VERY big concern for businesses, and many of Microsoft’s competitors hosted service competitors are quite low cost – in fact many of them (including apps in Google’s marketplace) are free.
At $10 per user, per month, Microsoft’s online services are not the “cheapest”. But smart businesses are not NECESSARILY looking for cheap, they’re looking for good value.
Birger told me that Microsoft Business Online services has everything Google Apps has and more (Exchange Online – email, SharePoint Online – collaboration, Office Live Meeting – online meetings, and Office Communications Online – chat/presence).
Furthermore, Birger explained, for businesses who want to work as productively as they can – using Microsoft’s familiar interface with compatibility with the software they and their partners use every day – Microsoft’s online services have the edge.
Although some businesses will choose to manage their own environments, in a hosted world, local partners will be continue to be a very important part of Microsoft’s push to the small business market. These partners can continue to manage and consult their customers, instead of managing servers, they can minimally manage the clients hosted environment. Other local partners will create custom solutions and tweaks (especially in vertical industries) for Microsoft hosted platform.