First Look: Office Live Workspace offers collaboration with a side of confusion

Some good collaboration features, but there are problems that still need to be ironed out

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Getting started and creating a workspace

It's remarkably easy to create a new workspace. Click the New Workspace button and a pop-up box asks what type of workspace you want to create. You have a choice of a dozen different templates, including a project workspace, a job search workspace, a household workspace or a generic one that you can customize yourself.

Once you've made your choice, a different set of prebuilt generic documents will populate your workspace. For example, when I created a project workspace, Windows Live Workspace precreated documents, including PowerPoint presentations, a Word proposal template, a contact list, a project schedule and a to-do list.

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Here's what a project workspace looks like. (Click for larger view.)

You don't have to use these documents, of course, and in many cases, you won't. (In fact, you can delete them if you want to.) You can instead upload your own documents by clicking the Add File icon, browsing through your hard disk to the file you want and then adding it. But if you upload files, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time doing it. There's no way to upload more than one document at a time or to add an entire folder, which makes adding files a very laborious process.

You can share your documents with others on a workspace-by-workspace basis. So, for example, you can share a project workspace with co-workers, a sports team workspace with other members of the team and so on.

When you're in any individual workspace, click the Share button, and you'll be led through a series of screens that guide you through setting up rights -- who has access to the workspace and whether they can edit documents or just read them. Then type in the e-mail addresses of those with whom you want to share the workspace, and an e-mail is sent to them with details. (They'll need to have a Windows Live ID to share your workspace. If they don't already have one, the e-mail will include instructions for signing up.)

There are only two levels of sharing: editor level and viewer level. Anyone to whom you give editor status can edit any document in the workspace; viewers can only view them. Normally, you can only give people editor status on an entire workspace, not to individual documents. However, there is one precreated workspace titled "Documents" that lets you share documents on a document-by-document basis.

The site also has some useful document-control features -- notably, the ability to save multiple versions of documents. If more than 12 hours have passed since you or someone else has revised a document, Office Life Workspace saves it and gives it a version number. You can then view or revert to that previous version at any point. In addition, you can save a version of a document manually as well.

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