Microsoft might have been late to the Web 2.0 party, but it is not wasting anytime and making an impact. The company announced its next generation web strategy back in November 2005, and since then has been slowly peeling the covers off some of its future products. The flag ship of this strategy is Microsoft Office Live. It received a mixed bag of reviews, mostly because of its confusing name and the weight of expectations that come with that moniker.
Nevertheless, after using it for a little while, the reaction it is hard not to be pleased with the product. (It is a mainstream product, meant for the mainstream users.) There are three different versions, Office Live Basic/Collaborations/Essentials. Office Live Basic is the best deal, since its free and has
- Your own domain name (www.vspeak.net)
- Easy-to-use design tools
- Five e-mail accounts
- Web site traffic reports
- 30MB of storage
In order to get started, you need to ask for a “product key” by going to the Office Live website. Once you have the product key, you can get registered to start using Microsoft Live. Microsoft is currently offering a complimentary domain name (I registered http://www.vspeak.net ) as well as an option to migrate your existing domain onto the Office Live. Users are required to provide credit card information even for the free basic version, this is to prevent fraud. (I am betting there is future up-sell plan already in place, especially for storage space. Look at the puny amount of storage that comes with the basic account. A handful of documents and powerpoint presentations could easily suck-up that much storage….Om.)
One of my friends who owns a small business was looking to go online and wanted easy website creation tools without bothering with uploading files or web-page designs. Good useable web page templates was all that he needed. Office Live provides those tools, and they are far superior when compared with the clumsy site-manager provided by Yahoo Small Business or the half heart jab at online editors by Google aka Google Pages. It took me mere 15 minutes to set up a website(www.vspeak.net) with some basic content, company information, site map and contact form.
The bad news is that the page editor doesn’t work with Firefox, which is silly, since Office Live is advertised as “All you need is an internet connection”, which is technically not right, since you need internet connection and IE. Access to HTML is restricted, which may not seem like a good idea, but at the same time it also prevents novice users from messing up with the pages.
Office Live Collaboration has additional features like shared folders, password protected website, site etc. These collaboration tools look more like a subset of Groove.net set of collaborative workspaces. Putting a wiki in collaboration workspace is a no-brainer but that is missing. The “Office live essentials” version has features which allow users to maintain employees, sales, project information etc. Salesforce should watch out for development in this space. Of the three versions Office Live Collaboration is the weakest and needs to be put back on the design table. How is Microsoft providing the basic version free? Microsoft hopes to make this up putting banner ads on the Office Live workbenches. The real opportunity for Microsoft is in managed business applications for fee – much like Salesforce.com. Office Live Essentials is the first step in that direction.
So despite the initial skepticism, Office Live is a decent offering from Microsoft.