Microsoft Touts Office Live As Partner Platform

The Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to unveil an initiative to help small VARs, ISVs and integrators put applications and services atop its SharePoint-based foundation-in-the-cloud.

Microsoft first previewed the Office Live and consumer-focused Windows Live game plan in February, though news of the strategy emerged in October.

The software giant now is working with a handful of partners to test the Office Live infrastructure to ensure its suitability for deploying applications and services for very small businesses, or those companies with up to 10 employees.

"We need to make it easy for developers to access small-business customers. Partners would love to get access to that target audience, but it is very fragmented and hard to reach. These customers are not interested in on-premise servers," said Marja Koopman, director of partner strategy and execution for Office Live at Microsoft.

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Koopman is expected to announce the initiative Thursday at the Office System Developers Conference in Redmond. Once the concept is established, the infrastructure will be open to Microsoft partners late this year, she said.

Roger Otterson, founder of the Small and Medium Business Technology Group and solution provider Qualitec, San Diego, is aboard and participating in the pilot. "The great thing about serving small businesses is they just want things to work. They don't want to fiddle with stuff, but they want certain tools, features and services,” he said. “The question then is, do they buy a 'Dummies' book or just hook up with someone who has a tool that's effective?"

Office Live will give VARs a platform for offering valuable services, according to Otterson. The actual transaction can be handled by the partner or Microsoft. "I don't care. I just want to sell my labor," he said.

If VARs can offer a repeatable service or offering, they can profit in any given geography, Otterson added. "I would bet there are 24,000 small businesses in greater San Diego, and I can be profitable with 12," he said.

Another, admittedly small, part of the channel ecosystem, views OfficeLive with considerably less enthuiasm, however. There are several small companies who now offer their own hosted Sharepoint solutions to small businesses.

For them, OfficeLive is decidedly "a triple edged sword," said an executive with one of those companies, who requested anonymity.

Microsoft has long said that very small businesses are the most underserved, and there are literally millions of them. But Microsoft is also relatively new to the software-as-a-service model pioneered by And many skeptics think that unlike, Webex or Google, Microsoft has to jump into this market plus protect the margins on its shrink-wrapped software.

System requirements for Office Live, now in beta, are Internet Explorer 5.5 with Service Pack 4 or later, Windows 98 or later and Web access. The Office Live infrastructure is based on Windows SharePoint Services Version 3.