Office Live Workspace beta now open to the public

Microsoft said Tuesday that it had opened up the beta of its Office productivity suite extension, offering a means of online collaboration for those that may not use its more expensive group productivity products.

The company first announced its efforts to bring its software-as-a-service vision to Office with the release of Office Live back in February 2006 in beta. However, at that time, it seemed to be more centered around assisting in the day-to-day functions of a small business rather than online collaboration for Office documents.

Last October, that seemed to change when the company announced its intentions to begin testing out document sharing, called "Office Live Workspace." The old Office Live product was rebranded "Office Live Small Business."


Tuesday's announcement begins the public beta of the Workspace. Described in the most basic terms, the feature can save more than 1,000 documents to a single workspace. From there, any user with a Web connection can view and comment on the document.

Beyond this, Microsoft has introduced new features based on beta feedback. An activity panel will show all activity in a workspace, while e-mail notifications will alert users to any changes. Direct links will now be supported, as well as multi-file uploads.

Users can save documents directly to the workspace from the XP, 2003, and 2007 versions of Office. Similarly, Outlook 2003 and 2007 users can sync contacts, tasks, and event lists from the workspace as well.

Microsoft says "hundreds of thousands" have registered for the beta. In addition, several schools and universities have been using Workspace and providing their feedback, including the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

"Today's announcement moves us further down the path of bringing a software plus services experience to people at home, work and school," Microsoft business chief Stephen Elop said.

The Workspace functionality is being offered free of charge, and will be expanded beyond the United States in the coming months. A final version of the platform is expected to be released later this year.

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