In its latest attempt to become a player in the accounting software space, Microsoft had released a free stripped-down version of its software -- targeting small businesses that are late adopters and rely on pencil and paper or Excel for their bookkeeping needs.

Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 integrates with other Microsoft Office software and will be included in the Small Business, Professional and Office Ultimate versions of Microsoft Office 2007. While using the free version of Express, users are periodically offered an upgrade to other products in Microsoft’s recently retooled accounting suite, including Office Accounting Professional 2007, which is set for release early next year with a price tag of $149.

The program is able to create invoices, quotes, receipts and customizable reports, as well as expense tracking, payroll and tax processing, credit reporting, online sales and monitoring employee time. Office Accounting Express can also import data from Intuit QuickBooks, Microsoft Money and Microsoft Office Excel, and use Office Live to share information with an outside accountant.

Office Accounting Express 2007 also links to third-parties that offer additional fee-based services, including ADP for payroll, eBay for online sales, Equifax for credit checks and PayPal for online payments.

Microsoft says that the free software might not be for small businesses with more complex needs -- such as inventory management, multicurrency invoicing, multiuser access and fixed asset management.

The free download of Office Accounting Express 2007 is available at

Microsoft's accounting software debuted a year ago as Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting. In September, the company dropping the "Small Business" from the product name, though it is still targeting businesses with 25 employees or less.

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