Review: Microsoft Live Small Business

Website Builder: Microsoft Office Live
Pros: fairly straightforward to use;
Cons: editor works only in FireFox and the website editor is, by default, blocked by the browser’s built-in pop-up blocker; designs look outdated; only a few options for customization; functionality is limited; not available worldwide
Price: basic service with limitations on storage space and users is free, a company domain cost $14.95 a year; additional users and storage space available at a monthly fee
Ideal for: businesses about to create their very first website

When Microsoft relaunched its Office Live Small Business (OLSB) in 2008, it did so targeting a very specific market segment that until then had been served by only a few other sitebuilder services.

The service offers small business owners and managers a domain name, a hosted website, email, and a password protected private website for sharing information with key contacts. It also provides over 20 applications that promise to help automate common business tasks such as customer management, projects and documents.

The OLSB website builder functionality is pretty straightforward and has few surprises.

After we sign up, our OLSB website consists of 4 pages; Home, About Us, Contact Us and Sitemap.

Microsoft’s OLSB shields website owners from the complexities of web design, largely by limiting the choices available.

All OLSB websites use the same basic setup, though we have a choice of 11 different content layouts. Themes only change a small set of graphics files in the header of each page, while the Style menu let us pick one of 15 different layouts for these graphics files inside the header of the page.

Microsoft OLSB offers a choice of 3 different site navigation systems; vertical, horizontal, and a combined vertical and horizontal navigation.

Beyond this, we can change the colour scheme and the font used for the entire page.

Any further customisation of the look of our website has to be done while we’re editing content blocks, which Microsoft refers to as Zones.

That’s really all there is to say about Microsoft OLSB’s website builder. It’s extremely simple and limited.

But it is what OLSB offers beyond the website builder that sets Microsoft apart. From the Homepage, we can access the Contact Manager and the Business Applications.

The Contact Manager offers us a basic CRM system, which lets us import, edit and manage all our contacts.

The Business Applications consists of a Document Manager which lets us to store and share document with co-workers and clients, and Team Workspaces, where we can organise, author and share information in teams.

The free OLSB package is limited to 5 users and 50MB of storage space for the Document Manager. Additional users and storage space can be bought at a monthly fee.

Final words
Though Microsoft dominated the business desktop market, the company made a relative late entry into the hosted business website market.

Other companies, like SiteKreator (see our review), Homestead (see our review) and Adobe Business Catalyst target the same market segment. Compared to what these companies offer, the OLSB offering does not have many unique features.

What sets Microsoft OLSB apart, is it’s integrated CRM and Business Applications, with document sharing and collaborative workspaces. That, however, is a market where it is in tough competition with Google Apps.

The OLSB website builder is straightforward and will get your business website online in a very short amount of time. For small businesses looking to set up their very first website, Microsoft’s OLSB could be a good fit.

Update: While wrapping up this review, a security update for our FireFox browser was rolled out, bumping its version to 3.6.9. After the release we were unable to access Microsoft Office Live because the Microsoft website did not recognize the new version of our browser as compatible. As a result, we’ve had to downgrade our browser to be able to access our Microsoft Office Live account. While browser limitations in general in our view are something to be frowned upon, loosing access to your account after a browser security upgrade is just plain unforgivable.

To sign up for your free Microsoft Office Live trial, click here.

If you use or have used Micrsoft Office Live Small Business, we would like to hear your experience in the comments below.

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