In an effort to capitalize on the growing number of eBay businesses, Microsoft began offering a new version of its small-business accounting software on Tuesday.


A pre-release beta version of Microsoft  Office Accounting, formerly called Small Business Accounting, is now available for free download on Microsoft's website. The latest version offers new features designed to help small companies do business on the Web.


Like its previous version, the beta software offers accounting tools to manage and track inventory, print checks, pay bills, and create invoices. However, the beta version has added tools that integrate the software with eBay, PayPal, and Equifax.


The software facilitates eBay sales by allowing business owners to select products from their inventories, list items for sale, and view the status of listings from within the accounting application. Online shopkeepers can also download the results of sales transactions and related fees directly from eBay into the software.


Because the software can be configured to work with PayPal business accounts, businesses can use online invoicing and accept payment via e-mail or direct credit-card payments. In addition, users can monitor the credit-worthiness of their customers and vendors using Equifax from within the accounting software.


The new version of Office Accounting also supports multi-currency accounting and allows users to customize the layout and labels on accounting forms.


Free Answering Service Debuts


Small businesses can appear larger and more established -- at least on the phone -- with CallButler, a new software application that provides a professional-sounding, feature-rich answering service.

CallButler uses a desktop PC and broadband Internet connection to answer and route telephone calls. The free downloadable software, which was released in beta on Sunday, facilitates assignment and management of an unlimited number of phone extensions and voicemail boxes.


Like a regular answering machine, CallButler takes messages from callers, but it can also send copies of phone messages via e-mail, so messages can be listened to remotely. In addition, CallButler can automatically transfer a caller to an alternate telephone number such as a cell phone. It can be programmed to transfer a caller to multiple phones until the call is answered.

Small businesses can also use CallButler to answer common caller questions, about topics such as store hours or specials, with recorded messages.


CallButler runs on Windows and does not require additional equipment or telephone lines, although it does require users to have an account with an Internet telephone provider or VoIP provider in order to answer public telephone calls. The company claims the software can be installed in less than 10 minutes. A Web-based version that does not require a download will be offered later this year.


When CallButler leaves beta phase, the company plans to offer various editions ranging from free to around $300.


A One-Stop Shop for Documents


If you've ever run from department to department, seeking approval for documents or presentations, a free Web service launched on Wednesday may save you some time., created by former Yahoo executive Jeffrey McManus, enables a group of people to collaborate and comment on company-wide documents. Users upload their documents to the site, then invite friends or colleagues to provide feedback. Only people invited to review a document can view it. Authorized reviewers can either approve the document or post a comment about it.


By registering for a free account, users can review and approve other peoples' documents and create one document at a time to be reviewed by up to five colleagues. An paid account costs $5.95 a month or $39.95 a year and allows a user to create and share up to 50 documents at a time to be reviewed by up to 50 people. With the paid account, users can share images, Microsoft Office spreadsheets, documents and slide presentations. The paid account also entitles users to receive alerts when documents are approved or reviewed.