Microsoft's long-awaited launch of its Windows 2003-based Small Business Server next week is designed to cut Linux off at the knees in its SMB territory, according to company executives.

On Oct. 9, the Redmond, Wash.-based company is scheduled to release two editions of Windows SBS 2003--a low-cost entry-level version and a premium edition that includes, for the first time, BizTalk Partner Edition, executives told CRN Wednesday, roughly a week before its annual partner show, Microsoft Momentum, kicks off.

Microsoft Wednesday made available its price list to OEM and solution providers. The entry-level version is priced at $599 and includes Windows Server 2003, Exchange 2003, faxing capabilities and Windows SharePoint Services.

The premium edition, priced the same as the current version at $1,499, also includes SQL Server 2000 and ISA 2000, as well as an enhanced partner edition of BizTalk that is based on Microsoft's forthcoming BizTalk 2004.

Top executives from Microsoft said the new Small Business Server is the company's biggest salvo against Linux in the SMB space because it offers a more aggressive price for cost-conscious small businesses, while also giving SMB customers new opportunities to engage in supply chains by deploying BizTalk Partner Edition.

The current version offers Windows, Exchange, SQL and ISA servers.

Martin Taylor, Microsoft's General Manager of Platform Strategy, said the discount on Windows SBS 2003 Standard Edition is the first--but not the only--price cut the company will have to enact to ward off Linux in both the small and midsize markets. "That's an area where we have done nothing incredibly aggressive, but it would be naive to think we won't take pricing action in the future at some time," Taylor said. "SBS is an example of this."

Orlando Ayala, Senior Vice President of Microsoft's Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group, said the price cut--and integration with the company's other software value stacks--will make the product an obvious buy for customers in the $10 billion SMB software market.

"The price was wrong for 70 percent of customers in the past, " Ayala said. "We're trying to bring down the barrier of entry. It's a new category of server the market has not seen in the sub-$1,000 space. It's a no-brainer to buy. It'll create new business models for the channel."

Microsoft said that between 10,000 and 12,000 partners have signed up to sell Windows SBS 2003--roughly twice the number that deployed SBS 2000--and 5,000 have been trained. The product has been under development under the code name Bobcat.

Microsoft will encourage cross-selling of SBS 2003 with the company's soon-to-be-launched Office 2003 Small Business Edition, as well as Microsoft Business Solutions applications such as CRM.

At least one product manager, however, said channel partners should pitch the value of new features such as Remote Web Workplace, remote administration of their customers' servers and quick installation and deployment capabilities of the server.

"The appeal of Linux is exclusively based on price and exceptionally difficult to use," said Katy Hunter, a product manager for SBS 2003. "The time spent on customer integration by the VAR is significant."

Microsoft extended its support head count to 75, up from a prior limit of 50. It includes full-fledged version of Windows Server 2003, except that the ability for Active Directory domains to trust to other domains has been disabled to prevent companies from using it as a branch server, executives said.

One solution provider who currently deploys SBS 2000 said the links among various Microsoft products is a nice value-add.

"The Remote Web Workplace is a Web site based on IIS and SharePoint Services that allows users to access their corporate network from any PC with Internet Explorer," said Eliot Sennet, president of ESI Enterprises, Newton, Mass., a small-business solution provider. "The Workplace provides links to the user's e-mail, via Outlook Web Access 2003, to the user's office PC if it runs Windows XP Professional and to the corporate intranet."

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