Microsoft Office Live = Low cost web collaboration?

Today Microsoft released a Beta of Microsoft Office Live, a set of online tools targetted primarily at small businesses. With the product Microsoft appears to be aiming its big guns at rather than Google's GMail, GTalk and rumoured calendar products. It is also a push to provide extra value within the Office lineup now that free software like OpenOffice are generating serious competition in their bread and butter, writing, counting and presenting marketspace. Microsoft Monitor has a good article about what Office Live is not which is probably more helpful than the stuff that comes out of Microsoft PR.

Regardless of how it is adopted worldwide it would appear to be a very good value proposition to New Zealand businesses. Currently vanilla hosting (web/email) are relatively expensive and for decent web/email/collaboration services it is easier (and often cheaper) to host things internally. If Microsoft can introduce these services within New Zealand at the same cost as advertised in the U.S. it should hopefully cause a shakeup within the local pricing structure. $50-$60 per month for email, web and basic collaboration services is extremely good value especially if Microsoft can integrate these online services with their desktop bretherin (which they will no doubt do). Another important concern for any business will be the backup/redundancy services offered. At this point it is unclear if this data can be easily backed up locally in a relatively open format (not encrypted Office Live only files).

It wil be interesting to see more in-depth reviews appear as the Beta-test invitations get sent out. Michael Arrington from TechCrunch has been behind the scenes at Readmond and certainly liked what he saw (much to Steve Gillmor's disgust). I am certainly interested in the collaboration features that get included in Office Live but more importantly how these features are integrated into future versions of Office and Windows itself (much like Apple is doing with .Mac).

The release of this coincided with an interesting Gillmor Daily (ODBC Part I) where the participants debated the future of IT within businesses and whether or not most services (like email and databases) would eventually be hosted elsewhere on the Net. The analogy of electricity was used as an example: no business generates their own electricity or maintains an electrician on staff to deal with major breakages. Rather all of these essential services are subscribed to or contracted in, leaving the business to focus its attention and resources on core business opportunities. Whether or not this becomes a reality is unclear but definitely in New Zealand the pricing, availability and quality of Internet access will need to significantly improve before such a dream becomes a reality.