Microsoft Beefs Up Office Live Small Business

Office Live Small Business, a set of online tools designed for companies with 10 or fewer employees, will serve as the basis for future small business focused offerings, said Baris Cetinok, director of product management and marketing for Office Live.

"We're looking at it not as a platform, but as a lightweight development environment for developing solutions for the target audience," said Cetinok.

Office Live Small Business previously came in three flavors: Basics (free), Essentials ($19.95 per month) and Premium ($39.95 per month). Microsoft will now offer a single version of Office Live for free, and will charge a monthly fee for more advanced features. For example, Microsoft will charge $39.95 per month for Store Manager, an e-commerce tool that lets companies sell products through their own Website as well as eBay.

Microsoft has added a free lightweight CRM application called Contact Manager that stores and organizes contacts in one space, said Cetinok. "It's a single version of the truth that lives online and synchronizes with applications when online," he said.

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Microsoft is also offering customers the chance to test out the beta of a new email marketing tool that ties into Contact Manager and is used to run newsletter and promotional campaigns, Cetinok said. For the duration of the beta, Microsoft will allow customers to send up to 200 emails per month.

Office Live Small Business also provides customers with a domain name that's free of charge for the first year and $14.95 annually after that. Microsoft will consider forgoing the annual domain fee for customers that are actively using the service, Cetinok said.

To cast a wider small business net, Microsoft has added support for Firefox 2.0, allowing Office Live Small Business to be used in Mac environments for the first time.

Since launching the Office Live product in February 2006, Microsoft has emphasized its channel-friendliness by playing up the opportunities it creates for partners to build industry-specific and customized versions for their customers. Microsoft in December released the public beta for Office Live Workspace, its Web based productivity offering.