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Microsoft’s “Buy Local” campaign to connect business customers to nearby OEMs is humming along, Microsoft said this week, announcing the 1 millionth site visit and 160,000 customer-OEM connections made.

The program encourages customers to use the resources of local OEMs with the promise of a promotional Bonus Pack, worth up to $1,200, for each copy of Microsoft Windows XP.

Since the software vendor spiced up the Bonus Pack on March 15 with a free D-Link Wireless router, 400,000 customers visited the “Buy Local” site and 75,000 customers were connected to regional OEMs, said Kurt Kolb, vice president of Worldwide System Builder Channel and License Compliance at Microsoft.

“Buy Local” is key to Microsoft’s effort to pump up its system builder network, but the company has also provided OEMs and distributors with tools, marketing and demand generation programs to help them become more competitive in a marketplace increasingly squeezed by the largest OEMs.

Microsoft has also seen benefits from an OEM Hardware Solutions Competency it launched in November to deliver internal-use software, branding and marketing materials to proven system builders. To date, more than 1,000 system builders have enrolled.

Partnerships between system builders and Microsoft’s Small Business Specialist Community have also helped move system builders’ products to more small-business users, Microsoft said.

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In July Microsoft’s OEM and System Builder communities will merge under a single umbrella, to streamline management and bring more resources to bear on both groups, Microsoft said.

Previously, Microsoft system builders, which manufacture “white boxes,” often custom-configured for customer orders, sat within the Small Mid Market Solutions & Partners (SMS&P) until they reached a certain volume and were graduated to the OEM division.

Microsoft OEM partners, which include the largest PC builders (such as Gateway and Dell) and about 300 “named accounts,” produce PCs and notebooks configured with Microsoft software.

System builders will receive the same support previously, but from the combined unit, Microsoft said.

Microsoft in February beefed up its “Buy Local” campaign to support small PC builders.