A number of product enhancements that have been in the pipeline at Microsoft were given a lot more visibility this week with the preview launch of the new Small Business Server (Aurora) and the unveiling of new features for Office 2011 for Mac.

Microsoft Previews Aurora

Microsoft  (news, site) has also been busy this week enabling SMBs move to the cloud easier with the –finally – preview of the Windows Small Business Server (Aurora) , which is designed to give SMBs access to all kinds of Microsoft services in the cloud.

Described by the company in a recent blog post as “a significant departure” from the traditional on-premise model, Aurora will be able to deliver both on premises and cloud computing capabilities for small businesses.

Designed for businesses who have less than 25 users and who are using a peer to peer network,  or for those that have no network at all, it provides advanced backup and file restoration features to users who will also be able to access data on Aurora from anywhere using personalized web address.

It is also designed to integrate between on-premise and online services and to use pay-as-you-go online services to extend the server functionality without increasing workload and maintenance needs.

Aurora is available for download for those who want to test drive it, while those interested in developing add-ons for “Aurora” will also be able to download the SDK.

Office 2011 Compatible with Office 2011

The latest news from the Office for Mac 2011 camp came earlier this week, this time with the announcement that it has made a number of enhancements to Office 2011 to make it more compatible with Office 2010 (for PC), that it has tweaked some aspects of Excel and that it has added photo editing functionality.

The first and probably most important of these from a sales point of view is that output from both Office 2010 and Office 2011 will be of exactly the same quality, Office 2011 evangelist Kurt Schmucker said it a video released this week.

"What we've been able to do in Office for Mac 2011 is to bring a lot of power to bear to produce a professional-looking document that's still compatible with Office for Windows.

In fact he adds that if the two are not absolutely identical they would consider this a bug and have to go and fix it.

The second is the addition of Sparklines for Excel 2011 where users can create a quick visual summary of large amounts data using tiny charts that fit within a cell near its corresponding values.

Finally, they have also added new Photo Editing features that will enable users to do have the basic photo editing tasks in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2011without having to leave the application you're working  in. Check out the video for more on this, or you can go to the Office for Mac blog.

Mac for Office 2011 will be released in October. The main interest here for SMBs will be the Office for Mac Home & Business Edition 2011 (Word for Mac, PowerPoint for Mac, Excel for Mac, Outlook for Mac and Messenger for Mac 8) US$ 199 for one install and multi-pack, or US$ 279 for two.



Gmail Gets Extended Search

From Google this week there is the extension of Gmail search. Currently, it is easy to find emails, Google says, as long as you know that you are looking for an email, but what happens if you don’t know the data you are looking for is in an email, on one of your sites, or in one of the myriad documents stored in Google Docs.

To deal with this – and to make Gmail and Docs a good deal easier to use – Google has added a new “Apps Search” lab in Gmail. Once the lab is enabled, the “Search Mail” button in Gmail will say “SearchMail and Docs” instead..Gmail_search_2010.jpg
Gmail and Docs search

When you run a search in Gmail, your search results will include matching documents and sites in addition to results from your email.
To get up and running go to ‘Settings’ within Gmail, then the ‘Labs’ tab, and enable ‘Apps Search’. Standard Edition users can follow these instructions immediately, while Premier and Education will have to get their administrators do it for them.

Just remember though that Gmail Labs are experimental, prerelease features that users can enable to add key business functionality to their Inboxes. In other words, they may change, break or even disappear, Google says

Kodak Adds Capture to Computhink

On the release front, we had the announcement earlier this week that Kodak (news, site)  and Computhink have joined up to offer a new output module for Kodak's Capture Pro Software to send and index documents in ViewWise document management software.

This has been designed specifically for the SMB market and adds a document capture component to ViewWise that enables businesses to automate forms processing procedures. It also extends advanced imaging features, including barcode scanning for organization and OCR for auto-populating index fields.

For its part ViewWise is accessible from a web or desktop interface and comes with all the features you would expect of a fully fledged document management system.

This is in addition, of course to the ViewWise Web Access client to enable users of its ViewWise document management platform to fully access documents while on the move.

Its also just latest in a long line of agreements between Kodak and ISVs worldwise. Expect more in this space sooner rather than later.

SMB IT Spend to Hit US$ 444 Billion

And finally, back to statistics. According to new research from technology market researchers Techaisle, SMBs are expected to spend US$ 444 billion globally on IT Products and Services in 2010.
If this wasn’t a sign that we’re pulling out of the recession nothing is, with growth rate of 5.2% over 2009 from 2009.

While SMBs are one of the growth engines for the IT market globally, there are indications that growth is being stifled by recent announcements that there could be a double recessionary dip on the way, Techaisle says.

Even still, within SMBs, the 50-99 employee size category will grow the fastest at 7.9% while the biggest spenders will be the 100-249 employee size category at US$100 billion.

The silver lining is the emerging market countries where IT Spend by SMBs will show a growth rate of 8.2 percent in 2010 over 2009.

Among the emerging markets Brazil, Russia, India and China country SMBs will spend $45 billion on IT in 2010 with other developing markets showing signs of growth too.

The full report is not available yet, but Techaisle says it will be available to download (for a fee) from its MarketViewPortal by September 1.