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Office Live Beta Puts SOHOs Online

On February 15, 2006, Microsoft unveiled its Office Live online service for small businesses (defined as those with up to 10 employees). Don’t be confused by the name — Office Live has little to do with the Microsoft Office suite. It's directed to the small business wishing to build a site and/or share data with co-workers, customers, and partners.

Office Live Basics is all about developing a Web presence without HTML experience.

The service comes in three flavors. Office Live Basics is the best bargain of the bunch. It includes Web building, e-mail, and hosting (all for free, including domain registration). Collaboration includes the ability to build intranets (to share information with co-workers) and extranets (to share information with the outside world, such as customers, vendors, or partners), but it includes no Web-site tools. The Essentials version combines Basics and Collaboration.

As of this writing, the betas of all three are available for free; once they are out of beta, both Collaboration and Essentials will begin at $29.95/month. According to Microsoft's FAQ, the company is making its money by selling advertising on some of the member pages — however, it says, the ads will not appear on users' sites.

Getting Down to Basics
Office Live Basics is all about developing a Web presence without HTML experience. You can build a multi-page Web site by choosing a domain name (which Microsoft registers for you), and picking a design (arranged by business types, such as “real estate” and “pet supplies”). Select a graphic theme and color scheme, and the program builds a sample site, pre-populated with text and graphics that you then can replace.

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