After years spent trying to find a higher-profile role for its Software and Services group, Intel has come up with an interesting new tack - use the division to launch an online software shop for SMBs.

The chip maker is calling its latest software project in Europe the Intel Business Exchange Software Download Store (Intel BX), and has signed up 130 software companies to sell their wares through the web portal from this week, with plans to expand this several fold during the course of this year.

The site has been up and running for a year in the US , but is now being expanded to cover the UK, Germany and France.

Software currently available for download covers a range of categories the company thinks will appeal specifically to the small and medium enterprise, including security, reporting and database management, utilities and network management tools, accounting - and so the list goes on.

Indeed, the store looks much like any other newly-built software store, so what is Intel offering that the usual software channels can't? And why would established ISVs (independent software vendors) sign up to sell through Intel when they already have many channels though which to distribute their products?

According to Intel's EMEA director of developer relations division, Wolfgang Petersen, software is still largely sold to appeal either to the single user or large corporates. Intel's BX would give smaller UK and European companies a one-stop shop to buy products specifically suitable for SMB use.

The store would also seek to undercut prices compared to rival channels. "We will compete from a pricing point of view," he promised.

Customers would be able to buy safe in the knowledge that the products had been carefully assessed, something that was not always true of conventional software channels. "Intel is a big brand and people do trust Intel. If Intel trusts these products they must be OK," he said, describing the thought process of the customer.

One interesting idea behind the store is that Intel hopes to use it to offer a retail channel to very small software outfits that might lack the marketing nous to sell their own products to a sophisticated audience. These products might be innovative but lack brand presence and trust without the backing of a large company such as Intel.

"It is also great for the ISV community - providing a channel to market for some of the small and highly innovative software companies who might otherwise struggle to get their products in front of such a broad audience," he said.

Key, though will be Intel's ability to attract the better-known ISVs. A store without established brands could be no store at all.

Petersen said that a notable brand in the security space form the European launch would be Kaspersky Lab. Likewise, Symantec's products were available from the US store and he hoped that they would become available in the UK, German and French stores later this year.

"We are trying to have 300 to 400 products by the end of the year," Petersen said. Companies of the ilk of Symantec already have numerous ways to distribute their software, he admitted, but the power of the Intel name coupled to the SMB focus would sway them in the end.

Big brand absentees still include security company McAfee and, inevitably, Microsoft, which sees itself as ‘The Beatles of software', able to trade without the help of third parties.

And what does Intel get out of this arrangement? It gets a cut of every download, but perhaps its motivations go deeper still. One of the problems the chip giant has right now is convincing customers that there is a point to buying its newer generation of multi-core chips. Getting the best out of these depends to a large extent on running software threaded to execute across several cores, which few programs do today. In Petersen's ambition, the Intel BX would also help people find these programs as they appeared, bolstering the company's hardware business.

A full list of the ISVs offering products through the UK store can be found here. The company is offering UK downloaders a launch incentive of 10 percent off prices until 30 June.