Microsoft Business Contact Manager upgrade available for free

In an amazing about-face, Microsoft has decided to give away BCM to businesses without Office Volume Licenses

When Microsoft came out with Office 2010, I heard one complaint over and over again from small and medium-size businesses: They wanted the Business Contact Manager for Outlook, just as they had with Office 2007, but Microsoft wouldn't give -- or even sell -- it to them. Microsoft would only give BCM to companies with Office 2010 Volume Licenses.

That didn't, and doesn't, make sense. BCM has always been targeted at small businesses, many of which buy only one or two copies of Office. Volume Licenses require a measure of faith (and an accommodating budget) that just don't make sense in many small businesses.

[ Read the InfoWorld Test Center's reviews of Office Web Apps and its picks for the best business features in Office 2010 and the best Office 2010 capabilities for remote and mobile users. ]

In a rare display of empathy, Microsoft suddenly reversed its decision last week and announced it would give BCM to businesses without Volume Licenses.

Microsoft Business Contact Manager extends Outlook, infusing it with many Customer Relationship Management capabilities. Big businesses frequently spend an arm and a leg on custom CRM software, but many small businesses find Outlook's BCM more than adequate. The price is right: BCM ships free inside the box with Office 2003 Pro and Small Business Edition, and Office 2007 Pro, Small Business, and Ultimate.

BCM is an Outlook add-in with a SQL Server back-end database; as such, it takes advantage of the Outlook interface to help track customer accounts. Anyone with a nodding acquaintance with Outlook can quickly build accounts with multiple contacts; keep track of emails, documents, and phone conversations; stay on top of tasks; and generally manage interactions with customers and potential customers.

With a bit of prodding and rigorous attention to data entry, BCM can even follow the progress of an advertising or marketing campaign. It isn't a sophisticated boiler room application, but for a small organization with a handful of people who interact with customers, it does the job nicely.

Since BCM shipped inside the box with many copies of Office 2003 and Office 2007, companies that upgraded to Office 2010 rightfully expected that BCM would come along for the ride. Nope -- shrinkwrapped boxes of Office 2010 hit store shelves on June 15. Businesses expecting to upgrade Outlook and BCM got a nasty shock. Not only did the Office 2010 box not include BCM, there was no way Microsoft would sell or give their old customers a copy unless they split open a vein and bought a Volume License.

It took more than three months (until Sept. 23) for some sanity to prevail. Justin Hutchinson, Director of Microsoft Office, puts it this way:

[W]e decided to simplify the Office 2010 lineup by including Outlook with BCM, a business product, only in volume licensing. We understand it is not ideal for every user. When we made this decision, we underestimated the importance of BCM to our small business customers and those who purchased previous versions of Office in retail stores or pre-installed on PCs. Worse yet, we left many of our customers, who didn't want to buy through volume licensing, stranded with their data locked in previous versions of Office.

Microsoft isn't giving away BCM, but it is allowing companies that bought an earlier version of Office with BCM to get the new version of BCM along with an Office 2010 upgrade, no Volume License required.

If you or your company bought Office 2003 or 2007 with BCM (in the box or pre-installed on a PC), or a stand-alone Outlook 2003 or 2007 and you buy Office 2010 Home and Business or Pro, or Outlook 2010, Microsoft will give you a free copy of BCM. To get yours, start at the BCM 2010 download page.

Hutchinson says:

[W]e apologize to customers who were adversely affected by this oversight.

Oversight, my foot. Whoever made the decision didn't understand -- or care about -- BCM's target audience. It's appalling that Microsoft didn't right this situation immediately.

This article, "Microsoft Business Contact Manager upgrade available for free," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.