Microsoft Office Live, a set of Web-based services aimed at small businesses, is a compelling offering for organizations that lack the IT expertise, time or money to manage an e-mail server, Web site or collaboration platform.
eWEEK Labs got an early look at the first Office Live beta, which became available Feb. 15. Access to the beta requires an invitation from Microsoft as well as a product key. (For more information and to register, go to www.officelive.com.)
There are three versions of Office Live: Office Live Basics, Office Live Collaboration and Office Live Essentials, the version we tested. When the Office Live service goes, well, officially live later this year, the Basics version will be free; Collaboration and Essentials will be priced starting at $29.95 a month. Organizations that choose to take advantage of Office Live Basics should keep in mind that it will be supported by advertising.
Office Live Basics provides a company domain name; five e-mail accounts with 2GB of storage each; a Web site with 30MB of disk space; a Web site builder; and Microsoft Office Live Site Reports, a tool that will help small-business owners understand the traffic their Web site is generating.
Office Live Collaboration targets small businesses that already have an online presence, offering applications such as Project Management and Customer Contact Manager that compete with the likes of Intuits QuickBase, Sage Softwares ACT and WebExs WebOffice. Using SharePoint Services technology, Office Live Collaboration also will allow small businesses to build password-protected sites for secure collaboration on documents and shared data.
Office Live Essentials includes all the features of Office Live Basics and Office Live Collaboration. Essentials also provides more sophisticated Web site design tools, 50 e-mail accounts, a Web site with 50MB of disk space and more advanced Web site analytics.
All versions of Office Live require Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher, Microsoft Office 2000 or later and Windows XP. When we tried to access Office Live via Firefox, we were directed to an IE download page. We asked Microsoft officials if additional browsers would be supported in the future, and they said they would listen to customer requests and determine if theres such a need.
Using an existing Microsoft Passport account, we logged into our Office Live Essentials account and were prompted to create a Web site domain or to provide a domain if we already had one. After we provided a new domain (www.eweekbenchmarks.com), Office Live checked to see if it was available, registered the domain and confirmed that the domain was active 24 hours later. Every page of a Web site built using Office Live will sport a logo showing that the site is hosted by Microsoft Office Live.
Using SharePoint Services technology, Office Live Essentials and Collaboration subscribers have access to a Shared Sites capability that will allow them to create online workspaces where users inside and outside the company can share information and collaborate. Users can set permissions for each site, ensuring, for example, that customers see only data relevant to their project.
This component of the Office Live service is perhaps the most valuable—SharePoint-like capabilities can provide big returns to a company, but such applications can feel like luxuries for resource-strapped organizations.