Microsoft Windows Office Live
Not an Office clone, but a way to move the office online.
- By Peter Varhol
Windows Office Live. You've heard about it as part of the Windows Live online
set of initiatives. It sounds like a managed services version of the Office
productivity suite, but it's not. And it's not a response to the Web-based Google
Docs, either. Instead, it's a set of services to help small businesses and other
organizations move online and have a working presence there.
Managed services are a great way to accomplish those goals for a small business.
Administrative tasks tend to be minimal and well within the reach of the average
business owner who might not have the technical skills or time to perform certain
activities that can help grow the business.
Like many of the Windows Live products featured on www.get.live.com,
Office Live is considered to be in beta. In my time, a beta was something a
select group of users tried out in test environments -- not for actual use --
in order to find bugs and collect feedback for the development team.
Yet Microsoft is actually charging a fee for some Windows Office Live users.
The service comes in three versions: Office Live Basics, Office Live Essentials
and Office Live Premium. It also offers Office adManager beta, a separate but
free service that provides a way to purchase and manage keywords and manage
an online advertising budget. Office Live Basics is a free service, while Essentials
and Premium are by subscription. Charging for a beta seems counterintuitive,
but the definition of beta has become quite fungible ever since Google turned
the concept of beta software on its head by keeping its software in beta for
long periods of time and distributing it widely.
Sign Up and Get Started
You can try out Office Live before buying on www.get.live.com/betas/office_betas.
As mentioned before, Basics is free, and provides a fundamental set of features
for someone who'd like to get online but doesn't necessarily know where to start,
or only requires a minimal set of features. I signed up for this service under
the name of my personal LLC in order to give it a test-drive. I also did a free
trial of the Premium service.
[Click on image for larger view.]
|Figure 1. Microsoft
Office Live provides a set of features for building your own Web site, using
your chosen domain name.
The Basics version is comprehensive for any new business just starting out.
It gives you Web site hosting along with 500MB of Web storage, the selection
of a domain name, templates and tools for building simple Web sites, and the
ability to buy advertising keywords. Even if you aren't computer-savvy, your
business can be set up on the Web quickly and painlessly using the templates
provided. It also gives you access to Office Live Mail and up to 25 e-mail addresses
for your chosen domain, as well as an online accounting package. Overall, it
took me a couple of hours to select a domain, assemble a basic Web site and
set up my e-mail accounts (three in all).
The Office Live Essentials service includes everything in the Basics version,
plus 1GB of Web site storage, Office Live Business Contact Manager, Online Workspaces
and up to 50MB of disk space for storing and sharing documents between workers.
It also gives you up to 50 e-mail addresses for your chosen domain. The fee
for Office Live Essentials is $19.99 a month, about what you'd pay to have a
simple Web site hosted. I have a friend who operates an advertising business
with about half a dozen employees scattered up and down the East Coast, and
ran this offering by her. Her comparable cost for Web access, Web site hosting,
e-mail and an online shared contact database was over $200 a month, so there's
a good amount of value for a small business, especially a dispersed one.
[Click on image for larger view.]
|Figure 2. Office
Live provides a Web page for administration of your account, including adding
e-mail addresses, viewing the status of your services, or changing your
Office Live Premium, at $39.99 a month, includes everything in the Essentials
version, plus 2GB of Web site storage space as well as online applications for
managing customers, employees, projects and business data. These tools may help
if you expect to run a good deal of your business online. Otherwise, the primary
advantage of the Premium version is that it offers more storage space, both
for e-mail and online collaboration. If your documents are large and you do
a lot of back-and-forth, it probably pays to up your subscription to this level.
Both paid services also have a toll-free line for technical support, which
is likely the real advantage of those services. All versions include Office
Accounting Express, which -- in a switch from the "Live" or online
nature of the rest of the offerings -- is a free download. You can do your bookkeeping
entirely in a rich client environment on the desktop. While you lose the advantage
of online data access and data backup, you may feel more comfortable keeping
your accounting information away from the Web.
Office Live makes building a Web site simple, but with the Basics version your
Web site options are limited. You can use existing templates for a home page,
about us page, contacts page and products/services page. These templates include
fields for several different types of text or graphic information, but don't
provide a lot of flexibility for downloads, blogs, RSS feeds or other types
of visitor interaction. If you need more than a simple Web site, you're going
to have to use one of the subscription solutions.
Office Live vs. Doing It Yourself
I recently renewed another domain name for five years at a cost of around $140.
I host a Web site and e-mail at that domain for about $15 a month. It's not
a lot of money, but it's a lot more than free. Microsoft is packing at least
that much value into the Office Live offering. For a small business owner who
has not yet made the leap, or for a business with several geographically separated
employees, this makes a lot of sense. And for most of them, I'd recommend the
subscription-based Essentials service.
My primary objection to Windows Office Live is the name. The implication of
the name is that it replicates some or all of the functions of Office online,
which isn't the case at all. Microsoft has certainly been attempting to expand
the scope of the Office brand beyond its desktop productivity packages, but
causing confusion with a dissimilar Web offering is the wrong way to do it.
That said, I have to applaud Microsoft for offering interesting and useful
managed services like this, especially for small businesses for whom anything
more than a basic Web site might be out of reach. Of course, Microsoft is testing
a new and potentially highly profitable market, and is trying to generate ongoing
subscription revenue, so its motives are no doubt mixed. Yet it has the potential
to be a valuable tool to help small businesses expand their markets and look
But I still don't understand how it can be called a beta.
Peter Varhol is the executive editor,
reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software
developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees
in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university