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.

Collaboration tools

Your MOLSB account includes your choice of any or all of 20 free business applications. Two of these -- Document Manager and Team Workspace -- are installed by default.

Document Manager lets you share documents among members of your team (those you've added to your account). You can require approval of a document before it's added to a site (it sits in a "pending" state until it's approved), keep versions and require a document be checked out before it can be edited.

I found it easy to add individual files or groups of files to the library. Checking in and out files is just as easy, and the interface is simple enough that any users will understand that a current document is being updated by someone on your team.

You can define folders within the library. If you want to organize some documents or set different security permissions in another library, simply add an additional Document Manager application.

There are some limitations. I found a way to allow a user to be an administrator (manage the entire library), editor (update any document) or reader (read-only access) for the entire Document Manager application, but I couldn't assign specific access rights at the document level. To get around this, I created a separate instance of Document Manager for each set of security permissions I wanted to set up -- one library allowed all to edit any document, another allowed only me to edit the document and all others to read them. It's not an ideal solution, but for many small businesses, it may be a satisfactory compromise.

Team Workspace, the other preinstalled business application, is perfect for posting announcements and calendar events, listing links to your own or external Web pages, and creating a document library. I created a list of events in the Team Workspace and published the list to the Web, and MOLSB automatically created a page containing the events and incorporated the new page into my site. I then opened the Web site editor, picked the fields from the list that I wanted to include (such as event title, start time, end time and description), and the page was created.

Furthermore, simply by checking a box, you can create an RSS feed and post a link to it on your page, with the information automatically formatted so anyone can quickly subscribe to the feed and add the events to an RSS feed reader, including the one built into Outlook 2007.

Besides multiple calendars and lists, you can include a variety of components in your workspace, from a wiki to a discussion group. The clean interface makes it easy to customize. A Getting Started panel at the top of the screen (which you can toggle on and off) and a Resource Center are available from any application. The former provides links to help information that explains the application's basics, while the latter provides help for more advanced tasks.

As with Document Manager, you can install multiple Workspace instances to match different security requirements.

Beyond Document Manager and Team Workspace, you can choose from 18 other useful business applications (some of which are predefined collections of document templates), organized in six categories, such as "Schedule Meetings and Events" or "Collaborate with coworkers and clients." These free applications range from a simple Project Manager to a Decision Meeting Workspace for tracking agenda items and task progress. A link to third-party applications is also provided.

MOLSB includes 50MB of business applications storage, and you can buy up to 5GB more for US$14.95 per month.

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