Microsoft: We have services, too

Rebranding of enterprise services, new personal collaboration tool signal intention to compete in on-demand service market

Microsoft has taken another baby step into on-demand services, with a bundle of small announcements that amount to a little rebranding here, and a couple of new services there. The new offerings are Office Live Workspace -- a free, personal, Web-based document storage and collaboration space hosted by Microsoft -- and a fresh edition of the company's Dynamics Live CRM product.

"With today's announcements, we are taking a significant step forward by combining our deep software experience with our strong commitment to delivering flexible software and services offerings for our wide variety of customers and their unique needs," said Jeff Raikes, president, Microsoft Business Division.

Office Live Workspace, which Microsoft described as "among the first" in a series of services that add Web functionality to Microsoft Office, enables users to store documents online and provide password-protected access to others. Workspace competes with similar solutions from Google, Yahoo, and others, and is designed to be an extension of the desktop Microsoft Office environment. Eron Kelly, Microsoft's director of product management for Business Online Services, said that Workspace targets individuals and does not compete with Microsoft's SharePoint collaborative solution.

Microsoft's Dynamics CRM is available three ways: as conventional, locally installed software; as software hosted by a Microsoft partner; and as a SaaS (software-as-a-service) offering, also known as the "Live" version. Microsoft talked up "continuing customer and partner support" for Dynamics Live CRM, but the product has yet to threaten the undisputed leader, Salesforce. The new release of Dynamics Live CRM will be available to customers immediately through an early access program. New editions of the locally installed and hosted versions have are expected to be released by the end of the year.

The rebranding adds a little clarity to Microsoft's service smorgasbord. Microsoft Office Live -- essentially a Web site hosting service that includes content management, HTML templates, and other tools necessary to get a small Web site going -- has been renamed Office Live Small Business. For companies with 5,000 seats or more, Microsoft is selling subscriptions for hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Office Communications, all under the under a new "Online" brand.

With the possible exception of Office Live Workspace, the news from Microsoft is, by itself, unlikely to have significant impact. But as the latest in a long string of recent services announcements, it's a sure indication that Microsoft is taking this area seriously.

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