RealTime IT News

Office Live Close to Launch

The launch of Microsoft's hosted software for small businesses is just around the corner, the company said.

In an e-mail sent to registered beta testers on Tuesday, Microsoft promised the beta was close at hand. It also explained the three different Office Live packages it designed for small business owners.

Microsoft Office Live Basics provides domain-name registration, site-design tools, Web hosting, Web site traffic reports and a still-to-be-determined number of e-mail accounts.

Microsoft Office Live Collaboration is a hosted version of Windows SharePoint. It lets a business create shared, password-protected collaboration sites. The offering includes online business applications to manage customer, project, sales and company information.

Microsoft Office Live Essentials combines Office Live Basics and Office Live Collaboration, adding additional company e-mail accounts, enhanced access features, advanced Web traffic reports, and Microsoft Office FrontPage Web design software.

Microsoft hasn't provided details about pricing for Office Live; the e-mail said the services would be free during the beta period.

Windows Live Expo seems to be a Craigslist-style local marketplace married to MSN communication and mapping. Microsoft will roll out local expos market by market; users will be able to buy, sell, and communicate with the people in their local marketplaces or across the country.

As previously reported, Expo will be integrated with Windows Live Local, which will provide local search and mapping capabilities.

Each listing will have a map button that allows users to see its location, along with a slider to widen or narrow the area of proximity in which items should be located.

Expo will connect with Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Mail, two offerings already available in beta. (Microsoft plans to eventually migrate all Hotmail users to Windows Live Mail, which is based on AJAX.)

In addition, Live Contacts lets them publish personal and business information to specified contacts; subscribers will automatically see any changes. Eventually, users will be able to turn on presence capabilities, so that they can see which contacts are available.

Microsoft also is planning to enable Voice over IP throughout the Live offerings.

Live Messenger and Mail will let users call their contacts directly using their centralized address book. All phone numbers in Live Contacts will be hyperlinks that, when clicked, will launch Windows Live Call.

In Windows Live Expo, potential buyers and sellers will be able to use Windows Live Call to discuss transactions.

MSN also plans to enable Free Call, a click-to-call capability of MSN Local Search that will let consumers speak to advertisers free of charge. Free Call likely is based on technology Microsoft acquired with its purchase of Teleo last August.

Google , the leader in search advertising, also is testing a click-to-call advertising service.

Microsoft first announced the Live hosted offerings in November 2005.