Microsoft is synonymous with the ubiquitous Windows operating system. But its Microsoft Office productivity suite pulls in more revenue than
The obvious move would be to offer free, ad-supported, feature-limited online versions of Office's flagship applications designed to compete head-on with Google's and Zoho's word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs. Microsoft's free Office Live Workspace, however,
Though it lacks advanced workflow, communications, and project management features, Office Live Workspace has more in common with collaborative Web services like Basecamp
Office Live Workspace anticipates the kinds of jobs you're likely to collaborate on, providing prefab workspace templates geared to specific business, school, and home tasks such as organizing a group meeting, launching a product, writing a term paper, throwing a party, or managing a little-league team. Individual templates contain document templates designed for the task, such as a project proposal outline in Word or a presentation in PowerPoint.
Office Live Workspace supports Excel files, too, though none of the templates available when we reviewed the site were Excel files. On the other hand, the service doesn't support Microsoft's Access database format, which is too bad--Access users looking to delegate data entry and to simplify reporting tasks might benefit greatly from an online database-sharing arrangement.
You can view documents in
Emulating a handy feature pioneered by Zoho Office, the service also lets you open, edit, and save files directly from your Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007 applications to your online folders, using a downloadable toolbar plug-in. Besides working in the
If you work with only a few collaborators, Office Live Workspace provides just the right combination of file-sharing controls and ease of use. As the workspace administrator, you create a new shared workspace and then invite other users by e-mail to join it, either as viewers (who can see but not modify files) or as editors (who can see, create, and modify files). You can share workspaces with invited users, make them public, or keep them private. Files are easy to move from one workspace to another. Though
Office Live Workspace displays a log of file creation, editing, and deletion activity, and the administrator can retrieve an earlier version of a file if an editing snafu occurs.
You'll also want to look elsewhere if your projects involve lots of large files. While other online storage services--including Google, Zoho, and Microsoft's own Windows Live Spaces--offer gigabytes of free storage, Office Live Workspace gives you just 500MB, with individual file size limited to 25MB. But if you and a few of your coworkers or family members want to collaborate in a lightweight fashion using Microsoft Office apps, Microsoft's unique response to Web-hosted applications could be a free and easy no-brainer.