Office Live leaves beta with ad-purchasing service

Office Live emerges from beta with a service that allows users to purchase online ads for MSN and Windows Live search engines.

As expected, Microsoft's Office Live hosting service for small businesses emerged from beta Wednesday with a test version of a new service that allows users to purchase online advertising for Microsoft's search engines.

U.S. customers now can access Office Live here. The service gives small businesses a Web site as well as providing basic management, worker collaboration, accounting and CRM (customer relationship management) capabilities.

Office Live will appear in beta in the U.K., France, Germany and Japan on Nov. 21, the company also said Wednesday. No date has been set for Australia as yet.

The full-release version of Office Live as expected includes the beta of Office Live adManager, which lets users purchase online advertising for Microsoft's msn.com and Windows Live Search properties. Microsoft also hopes to add the ability to purchase ads for Google, Yahoo and Ask.com search engines in the next six months.

Microsoft also hopes Office Live adManager, as well as Office Live and other services offered through the Windows Live brand, will drive online advertising revenue for Microsoft. So far, Microsoft has seen its online advertising revenue remain flat since it launched its online ad platform, adCenter, in the U.S. in May.

Office Live has three versions: Office Live Basics, a stripped-down, free version; Office Live Essentials, which costs US$19.95 a month and can support up to 10 users; and Office Live Premium, which costs US$39.95 a month and can support up to 20 users.

They all include the beta of adManager, as well as another new service called Office Live Business Contact Manager, a CRM service.

Microsoft first launched its Live services plan in November 2005 to compete with Google and Yahoo for online advertising revenue under the direction of Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect.

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