Technology – The gloves are off for 2002.

The battle for market share in the SME software market is set to become even fiercer following a plethora of companies posting aggressive intentions for next year.

Each week seems to bring more signs that big fish like Microsoft and ACCPAC, a division of US giant Computer Associates, are paying more attention to the market, while the likes of Sage, Quickbooks and Access Accounting are equally determined to keep their foothold.

Microsoft has announced it is entering the SME accounting market in the US with its Small Business Manager product, while a similar move in the UK is expected shortly, while it is known the company is set to embark next year on an enormous marketing campaign as it steps into the space.

Meanwhile, ACCPAC, backed by CA, last week announced it is giving away a million free copies of its SOHO and SME accounting software, in what is thought to be the largest UK free software promotion ever.

The aim of the Simply Accounting software giveaway – the product is worth around #125 – is to attract new custom which will hopefully stay with the company as they grow.

ACCPAC regional manager for Europe, Cyrus Razzaghi, said: ‘We’re ideally placed to aggressively take on vendors such as Sage and Quickbooks. With the Simply Free promotion we’re looking to accelerate our plans and significantly grow our user base in the UK. None of our competitors have the confidence in their product to make it free on an unlimited basis to a million users.’

Sage’s share price dropped after Microsoft announced its US intentions, but products such as Line 50 are incredibly popular and it would take something extraordinary to budge the product from its position of strength.

The Newcastle-based company will also roll out a finance package called SageFinance at the end of the month in a bid to reduce the barriers SMEs face in making large one-off payments when investing in IT.

Nigel Hudson, Sage new business division managing director, said: ‘SageFinance will enable SMEs to reap the benefits that come from automating their business process without the initial cash outlay.’ But while the heavyweights prepare to slug it out next year, smaller providers are also feeling extremely confident.

Mark Searles, managing director of SME market software provider MyBusiness, said: ‘The market for small business software exists. It’s reassuring to know that the likes of Microsoft are beginning to take the small business market seriously.

‘However, Microsoft’s Small Business Manager is just a cut-down version of Great Plains Dynamics. It’s yet another classic example of a big fish attempting to scale down a corporate product to fit a market it knows very little about. SMEs need software that is designed to be everything a small business needs. It’s not just about accounting.’

However, the issue that is really important to customers is the technology and the real benefits it can bring the organisation, a point not lost on Hansa UK managing director Stephen Jay.

The company recently released Hansa version 3.9, which includes new modules to help customers address the needs of their industries. These include full hotel and restaurant management for the hotel sector, enabling any SME-sized hotel or restaurant to manage staff, guests and stock, while giving full integration to the back office.

He said: ‘Our aim is to stop the bigger companies from being an automatic choice before anything is really known about whether or not their products can provide real benefit. Many products out there are archaic. They are given a facelift every so often, but are not future-proof, or suffer from a lack of functionality.’

So now the words have been exchanged, it is a matter of seeing which companies come out on top next year. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be competitive.

– Details of Accpac’s give-away can be found at

– Sage’s offer can be found at

– MyBusiness can be found at

– Hansa’s website is

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