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Office Live Offers Alternative for SMBs

Microsoft will flip the switch on its Office Live offering on Wednesday.

Office Live joins Windows Live as Microsoft's foray into Web-based applications. The packages are designed for small businesses with 10 or fewer employees that lack in-house IT 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 statement.

Office Live comes in three flavors:

  • Microsoft Office Live Basics is a collection of free, ad-supported services including a company domain name; five e-mail accounts under that domain with 2 GB of storage each; a Web site with 30 MB of file storage space; drag-and-drop design tool for creating the Web site; and the Microsoft Office Live Site Reports tool for monitoring and analyzing Web site traffic.
  • Microsoft Office Live Collaboration is designed for small businesses that may already have a Web site. It offers Internet-based business management tools based on Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services technology. Capabilities 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.
  • Microsoft Office Live Essentials includes free domain name, 50 e-mail accounts, a Web site with 50 MB of file storage space; the Web design tool plus Microsoft FrontPage support for advanced Web design; more advanced Web site analytics; and a set of Internet-based applications for managing customers, projects and documents.

The three packages are designed to work independently and to integrate with other programs in the Microsoft Office suite.

During the beta period, the three packages will be free. The final public versions of all three services are expected to launch in late 2006. According to the blog LiveSide, the Collaboration and Essentials packages will start at $29.95 per month after the official launch.

Office Live Essentials competes with Yahoo Small Business, which recently cut its prices. Yahoo is offering a domain name, 200 e-mail accounts, Web design tools and Web hosting with 5 GB of storage for $8.96 a month.

Last week, Google also began testing a version of its Gmail service that provides organizations with e-mail accounts using their own domain names. Google hasn't announced any forays into the hosted applications arena, but a partnership with Sun Microsystems that includes working together to promote the open source OpenOffice suite of alternatives to Microsoft Office made some wonder whether Google planned to get further into Microsoft's face.