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Microsoft Beta Tests Office Live Services

Microsoft's Office Live online services for small companies officially entered beta mid-week.

Calling the beta a "cost-free opportunity" to try out Microsoft's coming Internet-based business services, the company plans to offer Office Live offerings that will range from free domain names, advertising-supported Web sites and company e-mail accounts to more comprehensive services that will be available on a subscription-fee basis.

The offerings are designed to be attractive to companies with 10 or fewer employees that typically don't have an IT person on staff.

"With Microsoft Office Live, we are making online services available for small businesses to create an enterprise-like IT infrastructure for them without the management requirements," said Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division in a prepared statement. "Our goal is to make it easy and affordable for small businesses to have a more customizable Internet-based solution."

The first beta offers free versions of all three Office Live versions that will ultimately be available.

The first tier, called Office Live Basics, will provide users with a collection of free services (advertising-supported) with the core elements needed for an online identity, such as a domain name, five e-mail accounts with 2GB of storage each, a Web site with 30MB of storage, and tools for building, monitoring and analyzing the site and its traffic.

The second tier, dubbed Office Live Collaboration, is aimed at small companies that may already have a Web identity. This subscription-based service includes a set of Internet-based business management tools -- based on Windows SharePoint Services technologies -- that are managed and maintained by Microsoft. It will offer small businesses password-protected online workspaces on both intranets and extranets.

Capabilities to be provided in Collaboration include customer management, project management, sales and marketing management, employee management, and company administration, as well as password-protected internal shared sites to facilitate collaboration among employees, customers, suppliers and other business partners, according to Microsoft's statement.

Finally, Office Live Essentials is intended to provide a set of collaboration tools customers can use to establish and manage a small business online. Services to be provided include a company domain name, 50 e-mail accounts each with 2GB of storage, and a Web site with 50MB of file storage space. It will also include the same Web design tool as in Basics and adds Microsoft Office FrontPage support for advanced Web design, additional Web site analytics, and other Internet-based applications such as management of customers, projects and documents.

The three services are designed to work independently, according to the company. Microsoft says it plans to release final versions of the services late this year but has not yet disclosed pricing. Users who would like to participate in the beta can do so here.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.