Yesterday, Microsoft announced that Office Live will come out of beta on November 15 for the United States. Office Live will be expanding internationally as a free beta in France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom on November 15.
Baris Cetinok, director of project management and marketing for Office Live told me (hear the audio interview) that there are three things Office Live is designed to help smaller businesses do:
– Establish a web presence (as so many smaller businesses still do not have a web presence)
– Find more customers, the right customers you’ll hear him say in my audio interview of him and
– Manage their business (from anywhere)
More than 160,000 small businesses tested Office Live during the beta program, providing important feedback that Microsoft has incorporated into the upcoming release.
New features that will help small businesses with their sales and marketing needs include Office Live adManager Beta; integration with Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007; enhanced Web design tools and templates; additional storage space; additional company branded e-mail accounts and calendars; and the ability to chat online via text, voice or mobile phone with employees, customers and colleagues using their own company domain name with Windows Live Messenger.
In addition, Office Live Business Contact Manager, a tool to help small companies manage business relationships in an organized and effective way, will be available in subscription-based Office Live offerings. Those who use the desktop version of Business Contact Manager via Outlook can now seamlessly integrate their data into Microsoft Office Live Business Contact Manager. Your data is always available and updated from any location.
1. The web designer tool will be improved and allow users to more easily drag and drop content and images into any section of their Web site. It will also be faster and you will be able to use custom HTML code, which extends the design of the web site beyond only Office Live and Microsoft Front Page.
2. Ad Manager will help you manage online advertising campaigns. Initially it will only work with Microsoft’s search tool, Windows Live Search, but expect it to work with other search engines (like Google and Yahoo) in the future.
3. Office Live will seamlessly integrate with Microsoft’s free accounting program (see my coverage here).
4. Partners play a key role. Baris explained that Office Live can not do everything for a small business (no application can). In this regard, Microsoft will work with partners to extend Office Live.
He told me that the advantage of Office Live, for partners is that
a) there’s no need to worry about hosting their solution on a server
b) Office Live applications are very light-weight (not bloated software like Office – my comments) and easy to develop
c) partners can sell their solutions to the growing Office Live customer base.
Partners will be able to create vertical and custom solutions, just like thousands and thousands have done over the years for the Windows and Office platforms. For example a partner could customize Business Contact Manager, which Baris comments is “light-crm”, to make it fit their specific needs.
Recognizing the important role of partners in addressing the specific needs of small businesses, Office Live, built on Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, provides an open platform on which developers can build customized or industry-specific software applications and deliver services for their customers.
Three partners participated in the pilot program and have already developed valuable small-business solutions on the Office Live platform: Qdabra Software, which streamlines business processes for small companies and teams to reduce IT complexity and cost; NPower Network, which provides the nonprofit community with a tool to manage their most important assets: their constituents and contributions; and Dinerware Inc., which delivers best-of-breed restaurant touch-screen systems built on Microsoft technologies. In addition, 75 partners worldwide are participating in the Early Adopter Program, building a wide variety of solutions to help meet the unique needs of small businesses. On Nov. 15 Microsoft will publish a developers guide and other tools to support the partners in developing solutions on the Office Live platform.
My last point is that Office Live will now work with Mozilla Fire Fox and other web browsers and not just Internet Explorer. This might be a small point but is SO IMPORTANT as it shows that Microsoft is willing to open up its site to competitive browsers to seriously capture the small business market. Many of Microsoft’s online offerings only work (or work best) with IE, Office Live will now work with browsers beyond IE.
What does this mean for you.
Microsoft is clearly MORE than just a software company for Windows, Microsoft Office and Xbox. It is doing more and more to provide mature and competitive services to smaller businesses via online applications. As your business grows, it is so important that you are able to leverage technology for maximum efficiency.
Microsoft offers an integrated suite of applications whose foundation is Windows and Office. Are there other good solutions? Sure. The hard part is deciding which solution (or mix of solutions is best for you).
I recently switch from Mozilla Thundebird to Microsoft Outlook. The reason was because Thunderbird kept crashing. Now that I’m using Outlook, I really like its seamless integration with my contacts, which I did not have previously.
Keeping reading this space to keep updated on what solutions you want to consider for your business.
You’ll find three types of choices emerging: 1) products from mature, and larger companies such as Microsoft, Intuit, Sage, SAP and others 2) products from smaller but mature companies like NetSuite, Bluetie, NetOffice and others 3) relatively new products from newer (but some mature) companies like Google.
Using the products from companies in group 3 is fine, but run your business on them cautiously until they mature more. Also remember, integration with your existing business applications is so important.
From Microsoft’s Press release here’s a break down of the three Office Live offerings:
Microsoft Office Live Basics is a collection of free services that provide a small business with the core requirements for establishing an online identity. Services include a company domain name; a Web site with 500 MB of storage; advanced site reporting tools; 25 company-branded e-mail accounts (each with 2 GB of storage) and
instant messaging accounts; calendaring through Microsoft Office Live Mail; an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop design tool for creating a compelling, professional-quality Web site; and the Microsoft Office Live adManager Beta for a simple, all-in-one place to manage search advertising campaigns on Windows Live Search.
Microsoft Office Live Essentials, offered at $19.95 per month, includes all the features of Office Live Basics and adds two powerful online business applications for helping small businesses better serve their customers and build the kind of loyalty that results in repeat business and referrals. Services include an additional 1 GB of Web site storage, 50 company-branded e-mail, calendar and instant messaging accounts, and Microsoft Office Live Business Contact Manager and online Workspaces for 10 users with 500 MB of storage. In addition, e-mail and appointments can be accessed offline with Microsoft Office Outlook and Windows Mobile-powered phones to stay connected while on the go.
Microsoft Office Live Premium, the most comprehensive Office Live offering, is $39.95 per month and allows business owners to manage their business online and stay in touch with the business when they are away from the office. Services include all the features of Office Live Basics and Office Live Essentials as well as an additional 2 GB of Web site storage; increased storage of 2 GB for the 50 company-branded e-mail, calendar and instant messaging accounts; and an increased capacity for 20 additional users and 1 GB of storage for the Workspaces. Office Live Premium also provides a
rich set of Internet-based applications to help small-business owners streamline and automate the daily business tasks of managing their customers, projects and documents.
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