Small business is a topic I write about elsewhere — as in my day job, so typically I eschew it here. However, as small business technology seems to be getting lots of attention today, I’ll wear my professional small business marketplace watcher hat and make a few observations about today’s announcement from Microsoft regarding Office Live, a tiered suite of online services for small businesses. Coupled with the announcement yesterday of a free accounting software product for the small business market, this is a major escalation in the arms race between Microsoft and Intuit — with other deep pockets like Yahoo!, Google, eBay and Amazon also in the fray, along with an endless array of other players focused on niche small business technology and online opportunities and specialized needs. (I guess, in a big-tent way, this includes me, but here I’m focusing on the tech-provider giants.)
First off, Microsoft’s announcement is impressive: a three-tiered “freemium” product (free plus two pay options with additional services and features). One of the major advantages Microsoft has in the small business market is an army of resellers and Small Business Specialists. These folks are, in most instances, small business owners themselves who have the relationship and trust of their clients. How these “middle” players direct their small business clients in adopting the new online services vs. selling them desktop software and servers is a mystery to me.
Here is some context for today’s announcement — most are things I have blogged about in the past:
Most important point: This is not a new battle. It has been taking place for at least a decade. What’s new is the shift of the battle from the desktop to the browser; from boxed software to web applications. It’s now a Web 2.0 thing. It’s really fun to watch.
Disclosure: Most of the companies mentioned in this post have advertised in magazines published by Hammock Publishing, but none are clients — but, hey, my e-mail address and phone number are easy to find.