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At the turn of the millennium, the future of the company whose very name is synonymous with photocopying appeared uncertain.

Xerox, based in Stamford, Conn., was grappling with staggering debt, consecutive quarterly losses and an SEC scandal.

That was at a time when some prognosticators had pronounced that paper was dead. You remember those predictions, right? With so much of our lives taking the electronic route, including shopping, banking and news, who would need paper?

Of course some folks —probably the same people—also had predicted that books would go the way of the typewriter with the advent of the World Wide Web. But then took off, and everyone seemed to rediscover the love of books. A historical note for the younger readers: Amazon started out as an online bookstore, no kidding!

Today, people aren’t exactly using their laptops to read books, though they increasingly use them for things like checking the weather and watching DVDs. Paper is very much alive, and not just the book kind, as attested by brimming paper baskets all over the corporate world.

Oh, and Xerox has made a comeback.

Now the vendor wants to increase its footprint in the SMB (small and midsize business) market and is calling on the channel to accomplish this goal.

Having entrenched itself in the enterprise, Xerox isn’t one of the SMB channel’s primary brands, but the company is pushing to change that. This week it held its first-ever partner conference, attracting some 800 or so solution providers to the event in Orlando, Fla.

Hard to say how many of those partners were just fleeing the bad weather in the Midwest and Northeast without looking at attendance lists, but, hey, Xerox deserves credit for making strides to assert itself in the channel.

The event itself is a demonstration of the company’s commitment to indirect sales. And though 800 may pale in comparison to the ranks of partners of Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, it is a decent showing.

Xerox took the opportunity at the event to launch seven products for the SMB market. Those additions were on top of 27 products—including printers, multifunction devices and fax machines—the vendor had already made available for partners to sell. Xerox management says the company has identified a $44 billion SMB opportunity for printing and document management, and it wants its partners to grab a big piece of that.

“We now have the right products and channel programs to serve the fast-growing SMB market,” said Xerox Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy. “Our commitment is to be the best partner in the document domain.

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The company has stepped up partner recruitment to gain traction with SMBs. One partner already in the fold is Infinity Business Systems, of Tampa, Fla., which has built a managed services offering around printing and document management, offering customers the product lease, consumables, warranty and repair services on a subscription basis.

Infinity was smart to wrap a managed services offering around what, despite its historical absence from SMB environments, remains one of the industry’s best-known brands. If Xerox can get a few hundred more providers to do the same, it will be well on its way to asserting itself in the SMB market.

And that will be one more feather in the cap of a company that not only revolutionized the copy business but also pioneered user interface icons.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner. He can be reached at