Microsoft Tuesday will hold its first Small Business Summit as a way to increase communications between the software vendor and its small and midsize business customers.Microsoft is due to officially unveil its Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 Release 2 along with a special financing deal targeting SMBs, according to a Microsoft executive."This is the first time we've done anything of this kind," said Doug Leland, general manager for small business for the Worldwide Small and Midsize Solutions & Partner Group at Microsoft. "We're opening up a dialogue really about how we can work together."Microsoft is keen to facilitate cross-industry and international relationships between SMBs, who tend to talk more to their peers in specific vertical markets or local regions.The company defines SMBs as those employing up to 49 staff and using up to 24 PCs. Microsoft has its roots in the SMB market and has sharpened its focus on this area over the last three years, according to Leland. He estimates that there are 40 million SMBs worldwide.The summit will run through Friday. Tuesday will be an in-person event due to take place in Bellevue, Washington, and expected to attract 400 SMBs, Leland said. The proceedings will also be webcast. Wednesday through Friday's summit will consist solely of online seminars. So far, 12,500 SMBs and partners have signed up for the Webcasts, he added.Microsoft will formally release its Windows SBS 2003 Release 2 at the summit, according to Steven Van Roekel, senior director for Microsoft's Windows Server solutions group.He highlighted the new Green Check feature in the software, a piece of technology that indicates whether or not a customer's networked PCs and servers have the latest Microsoft patches and updates. Microsoft has also raised the mailbox storage allowance in SBS to one gigabyte per user and included the vendor's SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition database, Van Roekel said.Microsoft will also announce its financing arm is lowering its minimum loan size to $3,000, down from a previous limit of $10,000, according to Leland. U.S. customers will be able to obtain 36-month loans for an IT purchase of hardware and services provided the purchase also includes some Microsoft software. The company isn't requiring a minimum percentage of Microsoft software to be included in a deal, he said.Microsoft intends to treat the U.S. rollout of the new financing arrangement as a pilot program, Leland said. If it proves successful, the company is likely to expand the program elsewhere in the world.Microsoft's research showed that SMBs typically prefer to turn to third-party financing or leasing options rather than rely on their credit cards when a technology purchase tops $5,000. In talking to its partners, Microsoft also discovered that poor access to financing was a prime contributor to partner deals with SMBs falling through, Leland said.