Microsoft lends hand to La. firms

Microsoft and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) today announced an open-ended commitment by the software giant to provide free business software for a year to small and medium-sized businesses affected in 2005 by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Microsoft has agreed to pick up the tab for the first year's licensing for qualifying businesses on any of its business software offered through its Open Value licensing program. Microsoft has had disaster response teams working in coastal Louisiana since the hurricanes struck, but this is the first program of its type, said Eric Ligman, U.S. senior manager for community engagement.

'This is a brand-new program,' Ligman said. 'It's a unique idea that was proposed about a year ago' by Sen. Landrieu.

'Katrina and Rita uprooted about 125,000 small and medium businesses along the coast,' Landrieu said. 'Eighteen thousand were totally destroyed. It's been a real struggle getting them up and running.'

The program, launched this week, will be managed by the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) working in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration and state and local organizations and universities.

'We will be the hub to facilitate the process,' said SBDC Director Mary Lynn Wilkerson.

The program will be open to small businesses that have qualified for disaster assistance and were located in any of the 35 Louisiana parishes declared disaster areas after the hurricanes. It will run until Sept. 24, 2008, the third anniversary of Hurricane Rita.

Qualifying business will purchase their software licenses from any Microsoft Open Value vendor and use the invoice to apply for the program at an SBDC office. Upon approval, Microsoft will pay the reseller.

'We will pay the invoice on behalf of the business' for the first year, said Ligman.

SBDC is headquartered at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, but three universities and an economic development group are offering SBDC services at 10 locations in the New Orleans area. Wilkerson said the turnaround time for processing applications would be three to four weeks.

Microsoft's Open Value licensing program offers business software to businesses using between five and 200 seat licenses. It is a three-year license and offers benefits such as training and disaster recovery backup licenses in addition to the free year offered in coastal Louisiana. Licensing Microsoft Windows Vista and the Office 2007 suite of programs for a typical small business of 50 employees and 25 computers could result in savings for the free year of about $12,000.

If successful, the program could be offered to areas affected by hurricanes outside of Louisiana. Although the program now is open only to businesses already operating in coastal Louisiana at the time of the hurricanes, it does include business forced from the area, Landrieu said.

'If you were in St. Johns Parish and are now in Huston, you can apply for this,' she said.

The cost of the program to Microsoft will depend on the number of businesses taking advantage of it and the amount of software they license, Ligman said. He said the number is expected to be in the hundreds.

SBDC expects to have details of the program this week on its Web site.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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