Microsoft Corp on Wednesday launched a new range of server systems for small companies, scaling down its existing offerings to attack one of the fastest-growing segments of the business computing market.

The world's largest software company is launching into the market for small companies as competitors introduce cheap, open-source alternatives to its relatively costly Windows-based servers, and the use of pirated Windows products proliferates.

Microsoft's new product line, called Windows Server 2008 Foundation, can accommodate up to 15 users and will cost less than $1,000 for the hardware and software combined, the company said.

A server is essentially a powerful computer that provides services to other computers. A doctor's office, for example, might use a server to allow staff to share files, access the same systems or maintain a website.

Analysts reckon the low-end server market for products costing less than $1,000 has grown four times faster than any other price range for comparable single processor servers.

Microsoft's new offering is a stripped down version of its Windows Server family of products, which tend to be beyond the price range of small businesses.

Microsoft said Windows Server 2008 Foundation software will be sold already installed on machines sold by computer makers such as Acer Inc, Dell Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co and IBM Corp.

The computer makers will set the prices for their products, which may vary by country.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby, editing by Maureen Bavdek)