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Microsoft Offers Free Windows Vista Support To Small Businesses

The Small Business Assurance program will provide Vista deployment help and free "deep technical" support over the phone through October.

Amid lagging Windows Vista sales and deployments among businesses, Microsoft is embarking on one of its largest free support ventures in recent memory. It is launching a new program aimed at convincing small businesses that the company's newest client operating system doesn't deserve the reputation it got during its shaky launch.

"We've got work to do about bridging a perception gap in the market among non-users," Greg Amrofell, small business product manager for Windows, said in an interview. "We think we can turn people around."

Microsoft announced the program, called Small Business Assurance, at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston on Tuesday. As part of the program, the company will offer free "deep technical" support -- albeit only temporarily and only by phone -- and a deployment planning Web site to companies with less than 50 employees or less than 25 PCs that upgrade to Windows Vista Business or Ultimate between July 1 and Sept. 30.

Along with the free support, which will run through the end of October, Microsoft is launching a Web site that it says is aimed at "dispelling myths" about Microsoft Vista, a possible indication that Vista is still struggling to gain acceptance among small businesses. The site will highlight small business Vista case studies and offer updates on where Microsoft is with Windows Vista today to combat lingering fears that the operating system has incompatibility or stability problems, as it did upon release.

Another new site, the Windows Vista Compatibility Center, will continue to update customers and partners with a list of products and devices compatible with Windows Vista.

According to Amrofell, there are still lingering concerns, especially among small businesses holding off on upgrades, that Vista is unstable or has incompatibility problems. Others tell Microsoft that "this just looks like a prettier version of Windows XP." Those perceptions are exactly what Microsoft wants to combat, and the company is pushing the support and Web site do just that.

The Web site will make note of the work Microsoft has done on Windows Vista. For example, according to Microsoft, 99% of the applications that major market research firms track are now compatible with Vista, including all major small business apps. Also, Vista is seeing 60% fewer malware attacks than did Windows XP SP2 after its release. "We're just not sure if small businesses know that yet," Amrofell said. "Folks may not even realize that we've shipped Service Pack 1" for Vista.

The temporary nature of Microsoft's program could lead to fleeting gains and headaches or even feelings of a raw deal for small businesses that miss out. Customers will have to go back to their more traditional support through hardware makers, resellers, or local consultants once the program ends in October, and that means again paying up. Microsoft doesn't even know how much of the "myth dispelling" information will remain online once the program's time is up.

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