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How Good is Microsoft Live?

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By Venkatesh Rangarajan

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 (
  • 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 ) 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( 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 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 Office Live Essentials is the first step in that direction.

So despite the initial skepticism, Office Live is a decent offering from Microsoft.

14 Responses to “How Good is Microsoft Live?”

  1. Dissapointed

    The page editor simply will not work. I cannot create a website and tech support has been unable to help me resolve this after numerous emails. Page editor comes up but none of the buttons work or do anything.


  2. Robert Spivack

    This offering is very disappointing. It is simply a re-hash of the existing “sitebuilder” genre of browser-based website builders.

    Many exist – the archetypical Daddy of this stuff is Geocities and Trellis (from Mr Visicalc Dan Bricklin)

    The collobration is a nice geek demo of what you can taking/pushing the current SharePoint to the limit.

    The problem with all the “small business” collaboration sites/tools are that they are built by geeks or suits sitting in cubes in big tech companies. Not by people that actually have seen how real small business works in the real world.

    Small business doesn’t need simplistic document libraries, and online noteboards to share announcements, news, and other snippets.

    In the real world, sneakernet in small business means simply standing up and talking to your collague or shouting out across the hall.

    Colloboration tools currently exist to solve a problem in big companies – separated by multiple buildings, geographic dispursion, and competing attention of diferent “task forces”, “project teams”, and peer groups, collab tools today are trying to re-create the online equivalent of 5 members of a group sitting in one office or bullpen with their desks and chairs in shouting distance.

    That’s why none of this stuff works for small business. It’s trying to a solve a problem that doesn’t exist – or at least in terms of the prioritized needs of the small business person is not even on their radar of what the business person wants to address to help grow their business.

  3. Ramana : I would beg to differ. For small business owners, who don’t have the bandwidth to invest on IT, Microsoft Live Offering would work well. Definitely not for large clients. But that’s the segment it is catering to. More than anything I respect Microsoft’s tenacity in getting it right over a period of time and Office Live is a useful first step in that direction.

    Sapphire: The workbench depends on IE , not the final website. It is rendered well both in IE and Firefox, at least for the ones that I tried. I don’t think business people involved in metal fabrication (for example) give a damn about HTML/CSS and their needs are very simple and precise. Office Live caters to them. This is I believe is Microsoft’s strength, catering to the masses and not tech utopia. I don’t see many people complaining about proprietary iTunes format as long as it is cool and easy to use?

    Gerald: Agree with you, collaboration piece is not well thought.

  4. If you want to start a website especially for business ventures, at least build essential HTML and CSS knowledge first as opposed to relying on a program to do the work for you. If you are truly dedicated to your line of work and want to establish an website, invest the time to develop basic skills instead of hopping on the first express train to your destination. I’m highly skeptical of Microsoft Live’s coding. Since IE functions on invalidity and this program only runs in IE, the coding may not be presentable in all browsers.

  5. If the web design tools are much better than Yahoo’s and Google pages, then the service seems useful. It sounds like free web hosting, and decent if simple web design tools.

    Compared to Yahoo’s 11.95/mo. (albeit with much more storage), and clumsy design tools, this sounds pretty good.

  6. I am might be using some other product. I used all three incarnations. I categorize them rubbish at best. The service is a revamp of sucky bcentral tools with a new name and some icons borrowed from MS office family. E-Mail and calendaring are nothing but crappy Hotmail. The so called business applications are lame. might be laughing at the idiots who put together this product. Avoid the service like bad rash.

  7. “sharing documents” should not qualify for collaboration. How about linking business records, activities, users, customers together to support your team’s daily process – companies like are focused on the collaboration needs of small businesses and are way ahead of “Sharepoint”. And who do you call if you need help like a file restored etc? Tricks are for kids.

  8. Donna,
    You don’t to prove yourself to be a small business. I identified myself as an individual rather than a small business while create this ( website. Yes, you get 5 email Id’s as well.