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Microsoft Swings $1 Billion Deal In ERP's Midriff

By Doug Bartholomew Only days after George W. Bush was proclaimed the president-elect for certain, Microsoft Corp. moved to make its first acquisition of any note in years, exchanging $1.1 billion in stock to acquire Great Plains Software Inc., a maker of enterprise business systems used by 130,000 midsized and small companies. "The small and medium-sized business segment is underserved today," says Jeff Raikes, vice president of the productivity and business services group at Microsoft. "This is extremely important to the overall Microsoft strategy." Most coverage of the deal overlooked the significance of the Bush presidency-elect from a timing standpoint. Under Governor Bush's reign in Texas, the state bailed out of the Microsoft antitrust case before it was filed in court, even though the Texas attorney general's office wanted to pursue the matter. And Bush has taken a negative view of the case. Now, with the gloves off, so to speak, look for Microsoft to be more aggressive in making other deals similar to, and possibly bigger than, the Great Plains acquisition, which took most ERP market participants and observers by surprise. ERP competitors were cautiously optimistic about the combination. For instance, Edward McVaney, chairman and cofounder of J.D. Edwards Co., suggested that Microsoft may go further into the ERP market in the future. "This is a perfectly valid first step for Microsoft," he says. "But if they want to compete with Oracle, they will have to acquire a few more companies," which will put a premium on share prices of ERP firms, he added. McVaney believes Microsoft and Great Plains together "will do well and sell a lot more software just because it's Microsoft."

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