Microsoft has launched a programme aimed at helping hosting companies to offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) to independent software vendors (ISVs).

The company said that the Microsoft SaaS Incubation Center Program would provide infrastructure and services that would allow ISVs to turn their applications into SaaS offerings, said Michael van Dijken, a marketing manager in Microsoft's communications division.

Microsoft already gives hosting companies infrastructure and services to help them offer SaaS enablement. The new programme puts some of those offerings under one umbrella for web hosters, and tailors them specifically to turning ISVs into SaaS providers, he said.

"This is a collection of a number of efforts we've been working on ... to bring hosters and ISVs together," van Dijken said. As part of the programme, Microsoft will help web-hosting companies reach ISVs in Microsoft's partner channel to offer their SaaS-enablement services.

On the infrastructure side, the Microsoft SaaS Incubation Center includes a software bundle called the Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting for Applications, as well as guidance and sample scripts to help service providers host SaaS offerings. Windows-based Hosting for Applications includes Windows Server, SQL Server, Microsoft Operations Manager and Microsoft Provisioning System.

On the services side, Microsoft will give hosting companies guidance on how to help ISVs deliver SaaS offerings from a business perspective, and help them provide business consulting and marketing for ISVs, van Dijken said.

Microsoft already has signed up eight web hosting companies, four in the US. and four in Europe, van Dijken said. They are Opsource, Affinity Internet, NaviSite, Wizmo, NTT Europe Online, 7global, Siennax and Visionapp.

In addition to the SaaS Incubation Center Program, Microsoft is announcing on Monday the second phase of its SaaS On-Ramp Program, which offers discounted licensing for ISVs to help them become SAAS providers. This second phase gives ISVs the option of acquiring the discounted licenses not only direct from Microsoft, but also from hosting providers enrolled in the programme.

Microsoft launched the SaaS On-Ramp Program in November, and it is scheduled to run through 2008.