Microsoft adds online store, Firefox and Mac support to Office Live Small Business

Embrace of Firefox 2.0 enables Web-based apps to be accessed via Macintosh systems

Microsoft Corp. on Sunday added several new features to its set of Internet-based applications for small businesses, including a hosted e-commerce store and support for the Firefox Web browser, which makes the service accessible via Macintosh systems.

Microsoft also announced that Office Live Small Business now has nearly 600,000 registered users in five countries: the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Japan.

The small-business service is one of two Office Live offerings, along with Office Live Workspace, which Microsoft bills as an "online companion" to its Office applications suite. Many of the basic aspects of Office Live Small Business are free, although Microsoft offers numerous paid add-ons.

Office Live Small Business, which was launched in February 2006, remains less popular than other Web-based small business services — in particular, those from Yahoo Inc., which Microsoft is trying to buy under a $44.6 billion cash-and-stock offer announced Feb. 1. Confirming reports published over the weekend, Yahoo's board today rejected that offer, saying it substantially undervalues the online services company.

Yahoo claims to have 1.5 million customers for the Web hosting service it offers to small and midsize businesses. Last week, Yahoo eliminated the data storage limits on its service, adding a new version that lets companies use as much storage as they need for $11.95 per month. Previously, Yahoo charged $12 per month for 5GB of disk space, $20 for 10GB of capacity and $40 for up to 20GB of storage.

Chris Bryant, senior product manager for Microsoft's Office platform strategy team, declined in an interview to speculate on what effect a successful acquisition of Yahoo would have on the Office Live Small Business service.

Applications available through the online service include Web site hosting, domain name registration and the use of contact management software. The new capabilities being announced now include a hosted service for building and managing online stores on individual Web sites or on eBay, for a price of $39.95 per month.

Companies can also get the use of custom domain names and business e-mail services for free for one year, and for an annual fee of $14.95 thereafter, Microsoft said. In addition, Office Live Small Business users now can access the service via Firefox 2.0 and synchronize their e-mail, contact and calendar data with information stored in internal Outlook applications.

Microsoft also introduced new e-mail and search-based marketing tools, plus a redesigned user interface for the service's contact management application.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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