Microsoft is offering a new subscription model to small businesses that will allow them to use the company's software for less cost than the currently available licensing model.
The plan, called Open Value Subscription programme, is part of Microsoft's effort to give small businesses more flexible and affordable options for purchasing software, said Cindy Bates, Microsoft's general manager for US small business.
The new plan costs about a third of the licence-only expense for the current licensing program open to small business, called the Open Value programme, Bates said.
The plan is cheaper because Microsoft offers upfront discounts for software purchased through the subscription programme, and also allows customers to increase or decrease pricing over the three-year subscription period if their business needs change, she said.
Open Value Subscription includes Microsoft's Software Assurance programme, the company's software maintenance and support programme for business customers.
Microsoft defines small businesses as those with 50 employees or fewer. Bates called 50 employees the "break point" for when a company hires IT management. Up until that number, "usually it's the business owner or office manager" handling the IT system, she said.
Businesses will be able to sign up for the Open Value Subscription programme beginning in March, Bates said. Microsoft products available through the program include Microsoft Office Small Business, Office Professional +, Windows Vista Business Upgrade, Small Business Server Client Access Licence (CAL), Core CAL, Desktop Professional Suite and Small Business Desktop Suite.
As part of its small-business outreach, Microsoft also this week is unveiling a partner programme called "Big Easy," which invests about $10m (£5m) in subsidies to small businesses purchasing products through partners.
Through the programme, small businesses purchasing certain products through authorised specialist partners will get a certain percentage of money back that they can use to purchase other services from those partners, Bates said.
For example, a small business would get a maximum of 22% of the money it spends if it buys six or more products that are on the approved list. Bates said Microsoft has figured the average return will be about 15% to 17% on purchases for small businesses.
Products available for subsidies under the Big Easy program include Microsoft Office products, Exchange Server, Forefront Security for Exchange Server, System Center Essentials, Project, Visio, Office SharePoint Server, Forefront Security for SharePoint and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2006, among others.