Microsoft Live Small Business Offers Free Web Tools Online
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Microsoft Office Live Small Business (http://smallbusiness.officelive.com/) is a set of Internet-based tools aimed at helping small-business owners get online, attract customers, and manage their businesses. The service allows you to create an online presence (including a Web site with a customized domain name and e-mail) for free. While Office Live Small Business isn’t specifically targeted toward lawyers, many of the free tools available would be useful to solo or small firm attorneys who do not have an IT budget— or even a particularly high level of technical expertise.

Microsoft originally launched Windows Office Live in 2006. They recently revamped the service, removing fees for access to a number of its features. The revision also added support for version 2 of the Firefox Web browser, giving Mac owners the ability to now use the service. Because it is a hosted service, you do not need to download or install anything onto your computer. All you need to take advantage of its free tools is a computer and an Internet connection.

Some of the tools now available for free include:

  • Web Site - Clicking the Design Your Web site link, once you’re logged in, takes you to the service’s template-driven Web page editing and creation tool. It defaults to creating a four-page Web site including basic elements (Home, About Us, Contact Us, and Site Map), each of which is editable by the user. There are a number of diff erent template layouts and color schemes available. The text editing and formatting tools will be familiar to any Microsoft Word user. You can also create additional pages by clicking the New Page link in the editor and even integrate an existing Windows Live Spaces blog (http://home.live.com) into the site. Storage of the first 500 MB of Web site data (pages, images, documents, etc.) is free. Additional storage space can be purchased (1 GB is $4.05/month, 5 GB is $14.95/month). See a sample site at http://internetforlawyers.law.officelive.com. You can also register a custom domain (e.g. www.yournameatlaw.com) via the service. Custom domains are free for the first year and $14.95 per year thereafter. You can also redirect an existing domain you may already own to the free Windows Live site you create. Microsoft hosts these sites for free and even provides some traffic /visitor data on your Office Live homepage after you sign in.
  • E-mail - You can create up to 100 individual e-mail accounts. Addresses will be in the generic name@officeliveusers.com format. E-mail messages sent and received from these accounts will include advertising messages inserted by Microsoft. You can purchase premium ad-free e-mail for $19.95 per year. In order to get customized e-mail addresses, you need to use the custom domain option (discussed above).
  • Contact Management - Windows Office Live also includes a Contact Manager that allows you to add individual contacts, import them from some other contact database, or synchronize the online Contact Manager with your existing Microsoft Outlook contacts. It also includes relationship management functions (e.g. specifying whether the individual is an Employee, a Customer, or a Vendor; the ability to add notes and action items directly into the contact record for later follow-up; and the ability to generate e-mail reminders of deadlines, etc. to the attorney and/or the client). There appears to be no limit on the number of contacts you can import into the Contact Manager (although it they are probably subject to the 50 MB storage limit mentioned below).
  • Business Applications - Windows Office Live allows you to store documents online and share them with other individuals you grant access to. You can store up to 50 MB of documents in your account for free. Additional storage is available for $4.95/month for 1GB, up to $14.95/month for 5GB. If you use Microsoft Office 2007, you can synchronize items on your computer with document libraries, lists, calendars, contacts, and tasks that you store online; and then synchronize changes when you reconnect to Office Live Small Business. Microsoft Office 2007 also allows you to save documents from Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, or Microsoft PowerPoint to your Office Live Small Business account from within the Office application. Similarly you can export Office Live Small Business lists—such as project tasks and business opportunities—to Excel 2007 or Microsoft Access 2007 for additional analysis.
  • Document Sharing - You can also create separate Workspaces for individual clients that can include calendars that can be synchronized with Microsoft Office, discussion boards, surveys, and announcements. Access to each Workspace is controlled by the account administrator (you). You can also designate people to have varying levels of access, making them Readers, Editors, or Administrators. Passwords can be required before designated users can access the Workspace. You can designate up to 5 users for each Workspace for free. Additional users can be added for $14.95/month for 10 users and up to $84.95/month for 75 users. Workspaces can also include calendars that can be synchronized with Microsoft Office, discussion boards, surveys, and announcements, among other elements.

An expanded version of this article was originally published in the March/April issue of the Internet Fact Finding for Lawyers newsletter, published by ALI-ABA. Reprinted with permission.

 

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