Microsoft Corp has announced an upgrade to its Small Business Manager software, adding a host of features and introducing flexible pricing.

Small Business Manager 7.5 is the next version up from Small Business Manager 7.0, which was introduced in December last year. The product, first released in November 2001, is aimed at businesses that have outgrown off-the-shelf software packages, but with under US$5 million in revenue and no more than 25 employees.

"We're on a pretty aggressive product release cycle, about every 6 months. We are adding big bulks of functionality each time," said Karen Engel, a Fargo, North Dakota-based group product manager in Microsoft's Business Solutions division.

Key additions in Small Business Manager 7.5 are fixed asset management, allowing users to manage depreciation for assets such as equipment and vehicles, and new features for order and inventory management, including support for direct shipment, and management and forecasting of assembly components, Microsoft said in a statement.

Other new features include support for additional financial reporting tools from FRx Software Corp., a Microsoft subsidiary, and business intelligence tools from Crystal Decisions Inc.

Microsoft has revamped licence and support pricing for Small Business Manager, which is sold through a network of partners. Small Business Manager 7.5 costs $995 for a single user and $400 for each additional concurrent user with a maximum of 10 users. Support costs 18 percent of the licence fee per year, Microsoft said.

While the single user price has not changed, Microsoft previously only offered a single user version or a five user version, which was priced at $2,495. The vendor also offered basic and preferred support plans, which cost $275 and $850 per year, respectively, for a single user, and $575 and $1,150 per year, respectively, for the five-user version. The preferred plan offered more support instances and a guaranteed turnaround time on those as well as unlimited online training.

Under the new pricing scheme the total price with support for a five user version comes out to about the same as before, while a single user version has become cheaper because of a drop in the support price. Support includes access to a library of online courses and two support instances with a guaranteed three hour response time, Microsoft said.