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Microsoft offers free support to boost Windows Vista migrations

Microsoft is giving free phone support to small businesses, but partners doubt it will drive adoption of the much-maligned OS.

HOUSTON -- Microsoft is offering free customer support to small businesses considering Windows Vista migrations, but partners don't expect it to drive Vista adoptions.

Microsoft announced the Windows Vista Small Business Assurance program this morning at the Worldwide Partner Conference. The program aims to entice customers who have been wary about Windows Vista migrations, and it will free up Microsoft partners to offer more in-depth support, said Greg Amrofell, a Microsoft small business client manager.

"This is a very different kind of approach," he said. "We're out to show that what you've heard about Windows Vista [isn't complete] … there's a lot more to the story."

Amrofell is of course referring to software compatibility and ease-of-use complaints that have plagued the operating system since its late 2006 launch -- and which have made many customers hesitant about Windows Vista migrations.

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He described the new program as a "try it, you'll like it" approach; Microsoft research shows that small businesses that use Vista are three times more positive about it than those that don't. He also pointed out that Vista now supports twice as many devices as it did at its launch and is now compatible with 99% of the leading business applications on the market.

Alan "Skip" Gould, president and CEO of BrightPlanIT in Buffalo, N.Y., said it's smart for Microsoft to challenge the negative perceptions of Vista.

"If [customers] try it, they by and large will like it," he said. "It's got a bad rap in the marketplace."

But the free phone support isn't enough of an incentive for most partners to begin Windows Vista migrations, Gould added.

"I don't think it will make any difference to them," he said.

The Windows Vista Small Business Assurance announcement is just one part of Microsoft's Vista push at Worldwide Partner Conference. The gift bags given to all attendees included a five-page letter from senior vice president Bill Veghte about the progress Vista has made since its release. The bags also contained a 20-page brochure titled "The Business Value of Windows Vista: Five Reasons to Deploy Now."

Still, bad publicity hounds the operating system upgrade. Apple's "Mac vs. Windows" ads relentlessly paint Vista as user-unfriendly. And late last month, The New York Times reported that even Intel -- one of Microsoft's biggest partners -- is not going to upgrade its 80,000 employees to Vista.

"We've got our work cut out for us in communicating the value of Windows Vista," Amrofell said. "Customers may not have recognized how incredibly things have improved."

Ron Herardian, president of Microsoft partner Global System Services Corp. in Mountain View, Calif., said the new program might marginally boost Windows Vista migrations, but it doesn't address Vista's fundamental problems.

"It's kind of ridiculous," Herardian said. "It's 'Here's something that doesn't work, and here's a number to call when it breaks.'"

Windows Vista Small Business Assurance is available to customers with fewer than 50 employees or 25 PCs that purchase new computers with Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate by Sept. 30. The program does not cover small businesses that perform Windows Vista migrations on their existing PCs.

"Because this is a new program, we've scoped it pretty tightly," Amrofell said. "Most companies are not upgrading existing hardware anyway."

Eligible customers will have access to a free telephone line, where they can get help with installation and other general support questions through Oct. 31.

The hotline will give Microsoft partners more time to focus on server installations, network configuration and other high-level services related to Windows Vista migrations, Amrofell said.

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