Microsoft Dumps Equipt, Hurts Entrepreneurs

The software giant's plan to get rid of this easy-to-use office product may be short-sighted.
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It's getting ugly out in Redmond.

Slowing consumer spending and cranky investors are forcing even typically forward-looking

technology companies

to

cut back on good ideas

and product lines that aren't immediately producing returns.

Last week,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

did just such pruning. The software giant is taking an excellent product,

Equipt

, out to the woodshed. And the move has significant ramifications for small-business owners.

What happened?

Once invulnerable Microsoft said it will stop selling Equipt, its excellent subscription-based office automation and security product, on April 30.

Introduced in July, Equipt is the rare Redmond offering: software for individuals and, to a certain extent, small offices that works, as advertised, right out of the box. For $70 a year, users get not one, but three, licenses for software that turns any computer into a do-it-all workhorse. Equipt offers everything: Word, Excel, security software and email.

Even better, the software runs from a single disc. No two-hour loading like other Microsoft software. No backing the discs up or struggling with support. Users just need Web access, the right security codes and a half-hour. And poof, you're in business.

I love Equipt. I've been using the software on test computers from

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

,

Sony

(SNE) - Get Report

and

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

with great success. It's flexible, stable and easy to use. It made me look forward to more subscription-based offerings from Microsoft.

Equipt had to die, company spokespeople said, because Microsoft is getting rid of OneCare, its unsuccessful security software. Without OneCare, Equipt made little sense, they said.

"We feel that discontinuing Microsoft Equipt was the best decision for our customers, retail partners and for Microsoft," said spokesperson Krista Ulatowski in an e-mail.

What it means:

Small businesses should reconsider spending a ton of money on Microsoft software.

To Microsoft's credit, the company is doing right by Equipt customers. They will get a prorated refund and a free copy of Microsoft Office's home and student edition, which normally costs $150. Not shabby.

Technically, it's a stretch to say that Equipt's demise impacts small businesses. The product was intended for non-commercial use. And the company plans to offer other subscription-based versions of its products in the future.

But if the once all-powerful Microsoft can't sell a good product, what else can't it do? More and more, it seems to be a lot.

Equipt isn't the only happening product not to catch on. Ignoring the flop that is Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 is among the best software the company ever created. Excel and Access, in particular, are terrific. And add-on tools like Groove and OneNote, which help co-workers share information, offer real value to small enterprises.

Microsoft gets no credit for such good work. Instead, its brand is suffering. Not even Jerry Seinfeld could reinvigorate its marketing efforts last summer. That's not a good sign.

In this weak economy, low- and no-cost options like

Google Apps

,

(GOOG) - Get Report

OpenOffice.org

and

Apple's iWork

(AAPL) - Get Report

are making Microsoft look like Rome in 475 A.D. Spread out. Vulnerable. Open to attack.

Bottom Line:

Microsoft Office is no longer the no-brainer choice. If you're considering an information-technology upgrade, check out other office software options available. They could be good solutions for you.

Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.