Microsoft has revamped its Big Easy programme for small businesses. Big Easy 2.0 will let small businesses get between 10 percent to 22 percent of money they spend on certain products back as a credit for other services from those partners. Microsoft to date has invested about US13(£7) million in the programme.

In Big Easy 2.0, small-business customers now can purchase licences for Microsoft's SQL Server database without having to also buy the company's Enterprise Assurance (EA) maintenance programme that includes free updates to software. Customers have complained about EA in the past because if there are not significant updates to products they use over the three-year time period of the contract, they don't feel EA is worth the investment.

Microsoft also has broken out its Forefront security products into their own group in the programme update. Customers receive more subsidies if they buy products from more groups through the programme's four-level tiering system, said Michael Moore, a senior channel marketing manager at Microsoft.

By breaking out the Forefront products instead of including it under the Exchange product group - as it was in Big Easy 1.0 - it gives customers the opportunity to get more money back from Microsoft, he said.

On the other hand, Microsoft merged what previously were two product groups - Windows System Centre Essentials and System Centre Configuration Manager - in Big Easy 2.0, he said. However, this was at the request of partners who wanted more clarity about Microsoft's systems-management offerings, Moore said.

Microsoft also has added products to the list of those for which subsidies are available. In addition to the current list, Windows Essential Business Server and Windows Server Data Center Edition are now covered under the programme. However, Essential Business Server won't be available until November, Moore said.

A comprehensive list of products covered in the programme and a calculator to estimate the amount of subsidies a small business can receive is available on Microsoft's Big Easy website.

The calculator is needed because while Microsoft tried to keep the programme simple, Microsoft's volume-licensing - on which the programme is based - is complicated and therefore subsidies can be difficult to calculate, Moore acknowledged.