Microsoft's Office Live service is set to go out of beta in the US on 15 November, and will eventually offer small businesses a chance to buy adverts from rival Google and others, according to a Microsoft executive.
Office Live is Microsoft's web-based service that's designed to give small businesses a website as well as providing basic management, worker collaboration, accounting and CRM (customer relationship management) capabilities. The service will also be available in beta versions in the UK, France, Germany and Japan on 15 November.
Microsoft will also introduce a beta of a new service, Office Live adManager, which lets users purchase online advertising for Microsoft's msn.com and Windows Live Search properties, said Baris Cetinok, director of product management for Office Live. And in the next six months, the company also plans to add the ability to let users purchase adverts for search engines from Google, Yahoo, Ask.com and Local.com, he said.
"Small businesses want to be able to do sales and marketing wherever they want," Cetinok said. "It's hard for them to figure out how different search engines work. If we can bring these together in one place, they can do real-time results and price comparison... to find out which search engine sends them the most traffic."
Of course, he added, Microsoft hopes Office Live adManager will also drive online advertising revenue. "We are going to be very aggressive," he said.
So far, Microsoft has seen its online advertising revenue remain flat since it launched adCenter in the US in May. But on its most recent quarterly earnings call last week, Chris Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer, said the company was seeing progress in this area, though he was not clear on exactly what metrics the company is using to track that progress.
Office Live will be available in three versions: Office Live Basics, which is a stripped-down, free version; Office Live Essentials, which will cost $19.95 (about £10.50) a month in the US and can support up to 10 users; and Office Live Premium, which costs $39.95 (£21) a month and can support up to 20 users.
All three versions will include adManager, as well as another new service called Office Live Business Contact Manager, a CRM service, Cetinok said.
Another change to the full version of Office Live will be a simplified website design tool, Cetinok said. The new tool made it easier for users to bring custom HTML to their websites, something beta users requested, he said.
More than 160,000 businesses have tested Office Live so far.