Office Live Small Business goes a la carte

The new version of Microsoft's small business Web services bundle offers new and mostly free features.

Promote your business -- for a fee

Not everything is free, of course. There are a number of other applications that you can access, assuming you're willing to pay for them. They include the following:

  • Store Manager: This costs US$39.95 per month and is available only in the US. It provides e-commerce services for listing and selling products on your site (complete with shopping cart) and/or on eBay. You define the product's name and attributes, attach an image, customize the information display, and define shipping options and tax terms.

    Orders from your site and from eBay are consolidated into a single interface. The add-on allows you to accept credit card or PayPal payments. To accept credit cards, you must sign up for PayPal Express. You can also generate invoices and send purchase and shipping confirmation e-mail messages to your customers.

  • E-Mail Marketing: This feature (in beta at press time) lets you send e-mail newsletters and promotional material to your customers. You define and control the recipient list, create the e-mail content, and send the e-mail messages. In addition, you can view reports on receipts and open rates. There is no mechanism for the customers to add themselves to your list, but Microsoft says they can unsubscribe from your mailing list.

    Pricing for the service had not been set at press time; during the beta, the first 200 messages per month were free, Microsoft says that e-mails will be recorded as "sent" in each contact's activity record in the Contact Manager application.

  • AdManager: Priced on a pay-per-click basis, this is a keyword-based advertising tool that adds your link or display ad to Live.com on MSN, Ask.com, Excite.com and Lycos. Unfortunately, it doesn't put your ads where you really them want to be: Google and/or Yahoo.

    You can test out the value with a US$50 credit for MSN and a US$50 credit for Ask.com (U.S. customers only). AdManager helps you set up the text link, choose key words and determine the price and total budget you can afford.

    MOLSB isn't limited to Microsoft services. Developers and designers can build a site, even one including a workspace, then create a package that users can upload to their sites and then use.

The bottom line

While I'm sad to see that Microsoft no longer offers a "free custom domain for life" option, paying US$14.95 a year after the first year for basic Web design, document sharing and an online common team area for five users is still a steal, especially when you consider that it includes a year's worth of hosting. The first year is free, and because a credit card is no longer needed to sign up, you need invest nothing but a few hours of your time to see how you like the service.

I found setup and customization of the business applications quick and easy. True, the Web designer isn't for members of the Dreamweaver set -- who will find it woefully underpowered -- and an MOLSB Web site won't be confused with one designed by a full-time, professional graphics designer and code guru.

But that's not MOLSB's target audience. The company is going for users who want to get a site up and running with a minimum of fuss and with virtually no technical skills and at no cost -- especially small businesses on a shoestring budget that need to share data among employees and that don't have time to spend learning several new products. For this demographic, Microsoft Office Live Small Business' integrated, easy-to-navigate interface is ideal.

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Richard Ericson

Computerworld
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