Microsoft cuts BPOS price to squeeze Lotus

IBM's Lotus unit, rather than Google, was the main target of Microsoft's price cuts to its online email and collaboration suite this week. But MS execs still happily turned their fire on Google in media briefings.

While most observers portray Microsoft's sortie into online email and collaboration services as a titanic battle to keep Google off its productivity applications turf, the real target of this week's price reductions is IBM's Lotus unit. In a briefing earlier this week, Ron Markezich, corporate VP, Microsoft Online Services told me that most of his team's customer wins are at the expense of the IBM division: "Seventy-five percent of our enterprise customers are coming from a non-Microsoft platform — predominantly [Lotus] Notes."

The half-price reduction for hosted Exchange seats (from $10 to $5 per month) and a one-third cut in the cost of the full BPOS suite (from $15 to $10) is designed to keep those deals flowing through. IBM earlier this year introduced its own hosted LotusLive iNotes service at an aggressive $36 per user per year. Microsoft's old pricing was at a level destined to give prospects pause for thought. At $60 per year, it's close enough to raise fewer objections. The lower pricing will surely help, too, in those cases where Google's $50-a-year service is the competition.

Interestingly, we now have a market price established for online corporate email services in the $35 to $60 per year range (indicative of a new price range for all categories of enterprise software?). As Microsoft VP Chris Capossela told CNET's Ina Fried, "it's the price that customers are really excited to buy our suite at ... We're pretty excited about the price and not so much focused on free services or the price Google or others might charge." You bet.

Microsoft execs were happy enough to focus on Google when it came to throwing brickbats this week. Every briefing seems to have included a drive-by shooting directed at Google. "It takes more than a few billboards to win enterprise accounts," Markezich told me, in a reference to his rival's current 'Going Google' ad campaign. "There's been a lot of investment in billboards. I question how much investment there's been in enterprise capabilities."

There's also been a concerted effort to question the size of Google's paying customer base. While Gmail is hitting the volume mass market, Microsoft currently has the edge in large enterprise accounts. Google spent a lot of PR dollars to promote its recent win of a 35,000-seat account at Rentokil Initial, along with its 30,000-seat contract with City of Los Angeles. Microsoft Online Services is currently scoring much larger wins, including a 110,000-seat implementation at pharma giant GSK, a "large number" of which are already deployed, Markezich told me. He also disclosed the existence of a much larger, as yet unnamed customer, currently "in the midst of deployment" to more than 300,000 users.


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