James Utzschneider gives Microsoft a C+ when it comes to getting its message out to small and medium-sized businesses, and a B for delivery...

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James Utzschneider gives Microsoft a C+ when it comes to getting its message out to small and medium-sized businesses, and a B for delivery.

It needs to improve at reaching that broad tier of businesses, said Utzschneider, a general manager of a Microsoft group that sells software to companies he describes as “bigger than little and smaller than big.”

In an effort to raise its profile and tout its products to that market, Microsoft is opening its doors today to customers — actual and potential — for a daylong “business summit.” Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer are to speak to attendees, pump them up about Microsoft’s software and unveil new products.

Microsoft estimates there are 1.4 million businesses worldwide in the midsize category, which it classifies as having about 25 to 500 personal computers. Those with fewer than 25 PCs — about 40 million businesses — are in the small category.

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These businesses often have Microsoft software already but have been hesitant to buy the latest versions, often because they don’t have big technology budgets or employees who can install and run the systems.

“These customers tend to be very reactive,” said Steven VanRoekel, director of midsize business solutions on the Windows Server team. “The great percentage of their day is spent fixing and fixing and fixing.”

Microsoft is ready to kick off a yearlong campaign targeted at smaller business, Utzschneider said. The company has spent years consolidating the operations of Great Plains Software, which it bought in 2001, and Navision, which it bought a year later.

This fall, Microsoft plans to roll out new products under the “Dynamics” brand name, starting with the “Dynamics GP” upgrade for Great Plains products. It is also bringing more customization to its products, such as desktop systems better suited to an accounts-receivable clerk or a warehouse worker.

Finally, Microsoft plans to announce it is developing a new product, code-named “Centro,” that would act as a glue pulling together numerous programs for use by small and midsize businesses.

Centro would integrate the next version of Microsoft’s Windows Server and e-mail-focused Exchange Server with security and management tools. It is expected to debut in 2007.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com