Office Live Workspace beta goes public

Since October, Microsoft has been busy working to hang its Office shingle in "the cloud," where users can save documents somewhere to the Web. Now it's ready for the general public to try out the cloud.

The consumer side of Microsoft's hosted service strategy steps up to the next gear this morning, as it unveils the official beta of its Office Live Workspace service to the general public. Unlike its Office Live Web-based applications, the Workspace service creates a Web location for storing traditional Office documents, as a way of ensuring portability.

As Microsoft's Office Live Services product manager Jacob Jaffe told BetaNews last October, the company is also marketing the service as a low-end collaboration tool -- a kind of poor person's SharePoint. "If you invite me to collaborate with you on a document," he told us at the time, "even if I don't have Office installed, I can still view that document in the way that you've intended it to be viewed. I can even comment on that document."

Registered users will notice one little addition to the "Save As" column along the left side of their Office dialog boxes: an Office Live Workspace icon, where they have direct access to their online workspace without invoking an FTP client or a browser. While those latter two tools certainly aren't foreign to most computer users, there's an entire market of less skilled users whom Microsoft is directly targeting this time.

Notice the carefully populist approach taken by Microsoft consumer product manager Kirk Gregersen, in this excerpt from a prepared Q&A released by Microsoft this morning: "We've seen that if people are working on a document and have to go to the browser to upload, many just can't get over that hump. So we've learned you have to make it super easy for people to do things like get their documents from Office to the Web, as well as to save work back to the Web with one-click if they're making edits."

Microsoft will be taking suggestions from general beta testers through its dedicated Office Live Workspace Community forum, which was also launched this morning.

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