Microsoft Opens Office Live Test

    February 16, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

The beta version of Office Live provides its small business testers with a free top-level domain name, website design tools, site hosting, and email with its Basics configuration.

Anyone with a sense of dj vu about the new goodies from Microsoft can have those feelings confirmed by visiting Phil Wainewright’s blog at ZDNet. He observed that the Office Live services once existed and were marketed under Microsoft’s “bCentral” brand, and they never took off.

The difference between the unsuccessful bCentral past and Office Live today is bandwidth. High-speed access to the home or home-office was virtually non-existent when Microsoft first began trying to get firms lucky enough to afford a T-1 to use bCentral.

That has changed with the greater availability and usage of broadband in the home. Even though the US lags a number of countries in terms of broadband speed and pricing for the household, 3 MB service can be had by a lot of the population today.

The real hindrance to Office Live, and software-as-a-service that Wainewright blogs about, are the minuscule upload speeds broadband providers offer. While users can find 3 MB download speeds, pairing that with a 768 KB upload costs upward of $200 per month in the WebProNews neighborhood.

Forty bucks a month gets users an upload speed around the 384 KB range in our example. If Microsoft has made its Office Live services efficient enough to use that relatively lower upload bandwidth from the home-office effectively, the services could have some staying power with customers this time around.

With the opening of Microsoft Office Live, the barrier for businesses to place a basic web presence online has dropped to zero. The Office Live Basics package rolls up enough features into one package to enable a small firm to get online and stay there.

To keep it free, Microsoft noted that Live Basics would be “advertising-supported.”

Microsoft announced the debut of Office Live, with three versions of the service available in beta during this initial public test period. The other two versions provide more services for a monthly fee starting at $29.95; these versions are free during the beta period.

Businesses that have a website but want to enable staffers to share information can sign up for the Live Collaboration version. During the beta period the service is free. Live Collaboration provides the kind of functions that users of Exchange will find familiar, like calendaring and to do lists.

In Live Collaboration, businesses can use several “workspaces” dedicated to sharing information with customers, human resources, vendors, and accountants. Access controls limit the availability of workspaces to those who should have it.

Of particular note under the on-demand business applications category in Live Collaboration is a campaign tracking feature for sales and marketing. Users can create, manage, and track campaigns in that application, including online advertising campaigns.

Live Essentials combines the Basics and Collaboration versions, and expands the number of email accounts and the storage and bandwidth limits for website hosting. Users of the Collaboration or Essentials services will be able to purchase add-ons like greater storage space or more email accounts as well.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.