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Microsoft Officially Launches Office Live Meeting Web Service

Microsoft officially went live on Monday with an enhanced web conferencing service it acquired from PlaceWare earlier this year.

Office Live Meeting - considered an extension of the company's forthcoming Office System 2003 - features a new console and Windows interface that follows familiar Windows conventions, including right-clicking for context-sensitive commands, standard menus and keyboard shortcuts, Microsoft said. The client was previously based on Java, observers noted.

It also offers improvements for presenting content such as full-screen views, movable annotations and the ability to rename and reorder slides, Microsoft also said in a statement released on Sunday.

The service, is offered in both presenter and premium editions and on a per-user basis and as a subscription basis.

Office Live Meeting also offers redesigned meeting management features to simplify scheduling of meetings and real-time collaboration as well as a new ability to customize the service with a company's own brand, the company said. The premium edition, for instance, allows for scheduling from within Outlook or Lotus Notes.

Microsoft claims pricing has not changed from the former PlaceWare Conference Center. The Presenter Edition features presentation tools, ongoing meeting support, attendance reporting and application viewing capabilities for 35 cents per minute per user or $75 per month for a concurrent user license.

The Premier Edition is the full-featured service with application sharing, printing and handouts, recording, and Outlook and Lotus scheduling features. The cost for premier edition is 45 cents per minute per participant for a pay-per-use license or $150 per user per month for a concurrent user license. Volume discounts are also available through PlaceWare Inc., a Microsoft company.

Microsoft bought PlaceWare last January. (See story.)

The entry of Office Live Meeting, analysts and competitors maintain, will draw more focus on the benefits of electronic meetings and application sharing, including reduced business travel costs, shortened sales cycles and enhanced training and e-learning.

The current service offers limited integration with Microsoft Office today. However, Microsoft is intent on integrating it tightly with the Office interface as well as with Office System 2003 components such as the forthcoming Office Live Communication Server, Microsoft's real-time instant messaging, presence awareness and collaboration platform, observers note.

While the company's planned .NET MyServices platform has virtually faded into obscurity, the emergence of Microsoft services such as MapPoint and Live Meeting - and tighter integration with the company's desktop and server applications - will give channel partners a more compelling reason to deploy services, observers note.

The debut of Office Live Meeting with a Windows client, for instance, gives Microsoft solution providers an opportunity to sell the hosted service into the massive installed base of Windows and Office users.

"While Microsoft continues to host some applications and even acquire some new ones, it seems to be limiting its new application hosting efforts to services that specifically support its software products," said Rob Helm, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a newsletter based in Kirkland, Wash. "The MapPoint .NET service supports Microsoft's products for wireless carriers, and Live Meeting will eventually support Microsoft's enterprise IM and real-time communications product. Hosted applications represent an opportunity for partners that build on Microsoft's platform, and Microsoft has tapped partners for things like hosting its CRM application."

It's unclear how well Office Live Meeting will sell out of the gate. One solution provider noted that NetMeeting had limited interest in the small-to-medium-sized business crowd, but noted that Microsoft's plans for integrating Office Live Meeting more tightly with other products may boost its appeal.

"NetMeeting type functionality can be useful, however in the small to medium-sized market, you generally have a less sophisticated user and nowhere near the IT staff to support operations," said Michael Cocanower, president of ITSynergy, Phoenix, Ariz. "Those users simply aren't interested in advanced NetMeeting type functionality at this point - it is too much for them to figure out. But maybe Office Live Meeting and its integration with Office will help this."

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