Why does a company like Microsoft plan a launch for an ambitious new low-cost software package and then steal its own thunder?

A lot was known about Small Business Accounting before its September 7 debut in Redmond, Wash. Still, companies usually build excitement for major product launches. Microsoft somewhat buried SBA by rolling it out it the same day that it held a mid-market business summit, one that was announced with little lead time. The notice was so short that Randy Johnston, a K2 partner whose favorable review of SBA is posted on the Microsoft Business Solutions part of the Microsoft site, couldn't attend because of a previous comment. The events section of the Microsoft Web site, updated on August 28, shows the business summit, but no word about SBA, whose date was pretty well known.

The announcement of a decision to change the name of its mid-market accounting products to Microsoft Dynamics took away from the normal exposure that SBA should have received. Reuters' newswire coverage of SBA, for example, was a story that had covered the mid-market event and which was updated with five paragraphs about SBA tacked on, two them dealing Intuit's reaction.

Microsoft immediately posted mid-market keynote speeches by Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steven Ballmer on its Web site. It took until yesterday to post the SBA keynote from Gates and Steve Guggenheimer, vice president of worldwide small business. Also, there was an executive email from Ballmer about the Summit, issued early on September 7. There was no SBA email from Ballmer.

One thing that was very buried was the involvement of accountants. Microsoft is building an accountant program similar to those from Peachtree and Intuit. The publicity for the day says 3,000 accountants have signed up for the Microsoft Professional Accountants' Network.

Usually at launches, PR people fall over themselves to give you analyst quotes and quotes from happy users. But if there were statements by happy CPA beta testers, or CPAs eager to recommend SBA, those names weren't made easily available.

SBA, of course, is part of the Office family and is available stand-alone and as part of the Office Small Business Management Edition.

Maybe this explains the approach: Microsoft is betting the SBA farm on its Office connection, treating it as another member of this highly successful family. But is accounting just like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, even if there is strong integration?

To Microsoft, SBA is not an end in and of itself, but another tool. Did accountants walk away with the message that accounting and professional accountants are important to Microsoft?

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