Microsoft has produced a set of new online resources and technical support for small and medium-sized business customers.

Small Business Plus will be part of the company's ongoing effort to provide better access to software, support and services for this type of customer, said general manager for small business in Microsoft's Worldwide Small and Midsize Solutions and Partner Group, Doug Leland.

The resources will include content and technical support, personalised using information that a customer provides when signing up for the service. That content and support can be accessed through the Small Business Center website set up in March 2004 as an online portal.

It will be available in eight countries: the US, UK, Australia and Canada from today; Germany on 30 January; the Netherlands on 31 January; Italy on 1 February; and France on 2 February.

Customers can sign up for for free on Microsoft's website.

Small Business Expert comes in bronze, silver and gold packages, each with a yearly subscription fee. Bronze provides six online chats for $149; silver, unlimited online chats for $299; and gold combines unlimited online chat support with phone support for $499.

Before, small-business customers had to pay $250 for phone-based technical support per incident. While Microsoft offers free technical support for many of its software products, it is not a guarantee for all the products a small company might use, so Small Business Expert is a good deal, Leland said.

Those who sign up for Small Business Plus also are eligible for software product training, as well as business training that will help employees of small businesses apply Microsoft technology to their particular roles in the business, he said.