Microsoft has been beta-testing both Windows Live and Office Live ever since they were first announced last November. Now, a year later, Microsoft is saying that they will release the final version of Office Live on November 15.
Office Live is a bit of a misnomer—it is not a replacement for Office, but rather a set of web hosting tools provided by Microsoft for small businesses. It offers domain, e-mail, and web site hosting, as well as tools for document collaboration and customer relations management (CRM).
Office Live has been free for the duration of the beta period, but will cost $39.95 per month for the premium version following release. That gets you 2GB of online storage and 20 workspace users. There will also be a free, ad-supported, stripped-down version called Office Live Basics, and a lower-cost version called Office Live Essentials (10 workspace users and 1GB of storage) which will cost $19.95 per month. Many industry analysts look at Office and Windows Live as primarily a defence against Google, but a closer investigation shows Microsoft's goals to be slightly different than they first appear.
Office Live in particular is another step in Microsoft's efforts to establish a beachhead in the CRM industry, a market currently dominated by high-end product vendors such as Siebel and PeopleSoft (now part of Oracle). Microsoft's approach to this market has been to come in at the bottom end, selling services to companies that are not large enough to afford expensive CRM software. The strategy has worked for some markets (Microsoft's original Office software competed against word processors, spreadsheets, and databases that were more expensive when purchased separately) but not others (Microsoft's low-cost Publisher package never really displaced DTP stalwarts like PageMaker and Quark).
There are a few differences in Microsoft's methods this time around, however. Microsoft is also releasing Office Live adManager on the 15th, which will serve as a revenue generator for both the software company and its customers. The interesting thing about adManager is that it will allow customers to purchase ad campaigns on any platform, including Google's and Yahoo's services.
From reading reviews and customer testimonials of the beta Office Live service, it seems as if most customers are only interested in the web site builder and hosting services. Microsoft is hoping that if it gets people to start using Office Live to build a small company web site, they will start to use and appreciate the other features, such as web-based document collaboration. That will add to the value of Microsoft Office, and help Office Live live up to its name..