Microsoft's Office Live services will soon support Firefox 2.0 browsers and add free contact management for all users. That means a potentially broader audience, including Mac users, and thus more partner opportunities, the vendor said.
The company is revamping the three Office Live "SKUs," adding contact management and Windows SharePoint Services collaborative infrastructure to the free, low-end Office Live version. Now the base-level services will be free but the company will charge for add-on functions a la carte, said Marja Koopmans director of partner stratregy for Office Live.
For example, a new "Store Manager" e-commerce tool aims to help small businesses set up online shops and market products both on their own sites and on eBay. Store Manager costs $39.95 per month.
The new Office Live services go live on Tuesday, Microsoft said. The target audience for these Microsoft-hosted services is businesses with up to 10 employees.
Many partners have looked askance at Office Live, viewing it as a direct-sales end-around by Microsoft to their customers or potential customers. The company launched an effort, headed by Koopmans, to combat that image and position Office Live as a platform for hosting and distributing third-party applications and services.
Microsoft execs, including Koopmans, will talk about how Office Live links and syncs up with traditional Office applications this week at the Office System Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif.
Microsoft has worked hard to position Office Live as an extension to, not a replacement of, Office. Given the billions Microsoft makes off Office applications, it's not hard to see why the company makes that argument. But Microsoft clearly feels Google -- with its increasing array of "cloud-based" applications services -- breathing down its neck.
Last week Google unveiled new Google Apps Team Edition, which adds business work group perks to the thus-far consumer-oriented offering. So far the Microsoft-Google spat has seen Google try to put its services inside the enterprise -- where Microsoft Office and Windows reign -- and Microsoft trying to work up steam in Web search and advertising services where Google has a prodigious lead.
As an example of the Office-Office Live link, Koopmans said the new free contact manager in Office Live syncs easily with a user's PC-bound Outlook contacts.
Koopmans said Office Live will appeal to tech-savvy do-it-yourself business owners but will spark partner activity among millions of other small business proprietors who have little time for designing Web sites or online stores and will hire help for that.