Microsoft Office Live Small Business customers: The clock is ticking

Office Live Small Business users: You have until April 30 to recreate and rehost your existing Web sites.

Microsoft officials said back in October 2010 that the company planned to phase out its Office Live Small Business (OLSB) Web-site hosting and design offering.

The date when that is set to happen -- April 30, 2012 -- is quickly approaching. Existing OLSB users need to make some decisions and take action in order to avoid losing their Web sites and content.

Microsoft's OLSB service will be discontinued on May 1, 2012, which means all access to the OLSB service and public web sites will end on that date. Existing OLSB customers have the option of transitioning to Microsoft's Office 365, which Microsoft is positioning as the replacement for OLSB. To entice them to do so, Microsoft is offering existing OLSB users six months free of Office 365. After that, OLSB users who move to the professionals and small business plan, P1, will be charged $6 per user per month for Office 365, and $15 per user per month if they also want to "rent" Office 2010 Professional Plus. Custom domain fees are not included in Office 365 prices.

Whether OLSB users opt to go with Office 365 or not, they will need to manually recreate their websites, which involves copying and pasting all text, pictures, and any other website elements they want to move. They also need to update their domain DNS records to their new hosting provider.

"I believe the number of users that understand what is about to happen is very small," said one now-former OLSB customer, Jeff Zuber, co-owner of Best Buddy Dog Wash. "I sincerely fear that the vast majority of the millions of small businesses and non-profits using OLSB really have no clue about what is going to happen, or just don't have the skills to follow the proposed migration path. On May, those people will wake up to find their websites are gone along with their domain names. At that time they will be faced with the cruel fact that the website they depended on for their business is gone and it's too late to do anything about it."

Microsoft is offering videos and online support in an attempt to help users move from OLSB to Office 365 or another hosting provider. Microsoft has a migration transition center and some of its reseller/integration partners are touting their ability to help users transition. One of its partners, CloudVisors, has created a tool that is designed to transition OLSB sites to Office 365 (on which they're offering a 50 percent discount to all OLSB users).

While Microsoft officials have touted how well Office 365 has been selling to small businesses, there's a question as to whether customers who need little more than bare-bones Web site creation and hosting will want and need to go to the more fully featured and more complex Office 365.

Zuber said Microsoft needs to make it crystal clear to OLSB users that any custom domains purchased via Microsoft will be lost as of May 1 unless users take action.

"I found it unbelievable that I received a notice two days ago that I would be billed by Microsoft in April for automatic renewal of one of my custom domains. Nothing in the billing notice reminded me that I would lose my domain if I didn't move it within two weeks after billing.  I've moved all my domains now, so problem solved," he said.

"I know Microsoft will claim that they are giving people all kinds of notice because you are greeted with a disclaimer screen telling you to take action when you log into the OLSB management dashboard. Unless you are making updates to your website you have no reason to login and find the disclaimer, so I suspect there are a lot of users that haven't seen it," he added.

OLSB users: You've got a little more than a month left to make a move.

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