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Microsoft upgrades hosted suite for SMBs

Microsoft upgrades hosted suite for SMBs

Microsoft released an incremental upgrade to its hosted messaging and collaboration suite.

Microsoft Monday released an incremental upgrade to its hosted messaging and collaboration suite that includes Exchange Server technology for pushing company e-mail seamlessly to Windows Mobile devices.

Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration 3.5, used by Microsoft service provider partners to host e-mail and collaboration services for small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) customers, is comprised mainly of Microsoft's Exchange, Windows SharePoint Services and Live Communications Server 2005.

The suite is available on a hosted basis to partners in Microsoft's Windows Hosted program along with technical support and guidelines for deployment. There currently are about 9,000 service providers in the program, said Stephan Schirrecker, director of hosting for Microsoft. The partners use the suite to sell services to SMBs, such as e-mail support and other services to increase worker productivity, he said.

The upgrade includes support for software updates that have been made available since the last release of the hosted product, including Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack (SP) 2, Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Live Communications Server 2005 SP1, said Morgan Cole, a senior product manager at Microsoft.

New e-mail technology for sending e-mails hosted on Exchange Server directly to Windows Mobile devices is available in Exchange Server 2003 SP2. The technology, called Direct Push Technology, eliminates the need for an SMS (short message service) message to alert device users when they have new e-mail on a Windows Mobile device. Instead, SP2 allows e-mails to be sent directly from Exchange to Windows Mobile devices.

One caveat with the new Exchange e-mail push technology is that its ability to work is dependent upon the inclusion of the Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack on devices. An early version of this software is currently in the hands of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that make Windows Mobile devices, but devices that come with the technology preinstalled will not ship until early next year, Cole said.

The Hosted Messaging and Collaboration update also provides support for ActiveDirectory synchronization between customers and their hosting service providers so passwords changed by customers can be updated automatically on the servers running their network, Cole said.

While this may seem a minor technology addition, it is actually a big hassle for providers to provide technical support for password updates, so much so that one Microsoft partner is considering a move to make customers pay for the password support services, Schirrecker said.

"This is quite big for service providers because if you look at cost of operations, a big chunk of that is support costs, and a big chunk of that is users calling in because they forgot or want to change their passwords," Schirrecker said. "It seems to be a simple thing, but we even have a service provider that's interested in charging for the service."

While the ActiveDirectory synchronization allows only passwords to be automatically updated, Microsoft is exploring other ways to sync up hosted providers and their customers through ActiveDirectory that will be available in later versions of the hosted software suite, Cole said.

"That's the first step," he said. "Microsoft will be making a continued investment to add other features."

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