Office Live to emerge from beta November 15

Microsoft will bring Office Live out of beta on Nov. 15, and will include a new feature for purchasing online advertising

Microsoft's Office Live service is set to go out of beta November 15, and will eventually offer small businesses a chance to buy ads from rival, Google, and others, according to a Microsoft executive.

Office Live is Microsoft's Web-based service aimed at giving small businesses a website as well as providing basic management, worker collaboration, accounting and customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities. The service also will be available in beta versions in France, Germany, Japan and the UK on November 15.

Microsoft will also introduce a beta of a new service at that time, Office Live adManager, which lets users purchase online advertising for Microsoft's msn.com and Windows Live Search properties, director of product management for Office Live, Baris Cetinok, said. And in the next six months, the company also planned to add the ability to let users purchase ads for search engines from Google, Yahoo, Ask.com and Local.com, he said.

"Small businesses want to be able to do sales and marketing wherever they want," Cetinok said. "It's hard for them to figure out how different search engines work. If we can bring these together in one place, they can do real-time results and price comparison ... to find out which search engine sends them the most traffic."

Microsoft hoped Office Live adManager also would drive online advertising revenue for Microsoft, he said. "We are going to be very aggressive," Cetinok said.

So far, Microsoft has seen its online advertising revenue remain flat since it launched adCenter in the US in May. But on its most recent quarterly earnings call last week, Microsoft's chief financial officer, Chris Liddell, said the company was seeing progress in this area, though he was not clear on exactly what metrics the company is using to track that progress.

Office Live will be available in three versions: Office Live Basics, which is a stripped-down, free version; Office Live Essentials, which costs $US19.95 a month and can support up to 10 users; and Office Live Premium, which costs $39.95 a month and can support up to 20 users.

All three versions would include adManager, as well as another new service called Office Live Business Contact Manager, a CRM service, Cetinok said. Another change to the full version of Office Live would be a simplified website design tool, Cetinok said.

The new tool made it easier for users to bring custom HTML to their websites, something beta users requested, he said.

More than 160,000 businesses have tested Office Live so far.

Microsoft first launched its Live services plans in November 2005 under the direction of Microsoft's chief software architect, Ray Ozzie.

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