Microsoft revamps its Office Live line-up

On November 15, when Microsoft makes available the final version of its three Office Live service offerings, there will be a few surprises.

On November 15, when Microsoft makes available the final version of its three Office Live service offerings, there will be a few surprises.

Office Live is the family of Microsoft's service add-ons -- targeted at small businesses -- designed to supplement Microsoft Office.

The November release, known inside Microsoft as Office Live 1.5, will be the first delivery of what Microsoft intends to make an annually updated set of services. (In between the major code drops, Microsoft is planning to do point releases, officials said.)

Come November, there will not be, as originally expected, an Office Live Collaboration offering. Microsoft has decided to keep testing this SKU and not yet release the final bits to the public, said Marja Koopmans, director of channel and business strategy for Office Live. She attributed the decision to beta-tester and partner feedback, and said to expect the final Live Collaboration offering to be aimed at slightly larger customers.

When Microsoft first outlined publicly its Office Live plans, company officials said there would be three Office Live SKUs: Basics, Collaboration and Essentials. Collaboration was intended to be a $29.95 per month subscription offering, based on SharePoint that would allow users to build password-protected "Shared Sites" for collaborating among internal employees and external partners.

In place of the Live Collaboration SKU is an "Office Live Premium" offering -- which supplants the Essentials offering as the new high-end Office Live SKU.

Microsoft also has upped the amount of storage space it is providing Office Live customers with the final release. When the company first began beta testing Office Live in April, Microsoft committed to providing Basics users with 30 MB of Web site storage; Collaboration users with none (not applicable); and Essentials users with 50 MB. The final storage allocations, as of November, will be 500 MB for Basics users; 1 GB for Essentials users; and 2 GB for Premium users.

Microsoft also has increased the allocated workspace storage limits. For Essentials, the former 50 MB limit is now 500 MB. And Premium customers will get up to 1 GB of shared-workspace storage.

Originally, Basics users were set to be allowed five free e-mail accounts; Collaboration users none (not applicable); and Essentials users, 50 accounts. The final counts: Basics users get 25 free accounts; Essentials users get 50; and Premium get 50.

Since it outlined its original goals for Office Live, Microsoft also has added several new features, including a synchronization capability, linking Office Live with Business Contact Manager in Outlook; integration with Office Accounting Express 2007, the free, entry-level small-business accounting product Microsoft launched yesterday; and integration with the Microsoft adManager keyword-purchasing service that is currently in beta test.

Final pricing is largely consistent with what Microsoft originally promised, with Office Live Basics remaining free (and ad-supported); Office Live Essentials will be $19.95 per month -- instead of the $29.95 originally expected. The new Office Live Premium SKU also will cost $39.95 per month. (The postponed Live Collaboration SKU was also set originally to be priced at $29.95 per month.)

Microsoft officials said more than 160,000 individuals have been beta testing Office Live in the U.S.. On November 15, when the services go gold here, Microsoft will commence betas of Office Live in France, Germany, Japan and the U.K.

No update from Koopmans on when or if Microsoft will turn Microsoft Works into another member of the Office Live family. Stay tuned on that one.