Microsoft is making a series of changes to its Office Live Small Business service, offering some previously paid-for services free, while adding a new charge for domain name registration after the first year.
Domain name registration will continue to be free for the first year. But each subsequent year Microsoft will charge $14.95, though it will add the ability for so-called private registration, where customers can keep their personal information out of the public Whois database.
Microsoft said that those who have already signed up for Office Live will continue to have their domain name registered for free "in perpetuity."
The company has about 600,000 subscribers for Office Live, which offers, among other things, free e-mail accounts and Web site creation and hosting. The service is tailored to the smallest of businesses that have neither an IT staff nor an outside technology consultant.
Microsoft first announced plans for Office Live in November 2005 as part of its Live services push. The service launched in test form in February 2006 and dropped the beta tag in November 2006.
As part of the changes, Microsoft is consolidating its three separate service plans into one, while making all of the paid services an a la carte option.
Two services that had been paid--contact management and Intranet portal creation--will now be free.
Microsoft is also bulking up the ability to use Office Live sites to sell stuff, adding paid options for creating a storefront, selling items on eBay, and e-mail marketing.
"What we have been providing so far is a lot of basic IT services," said Baris Cetinok, director of product management and marketing for Office Live. "Now we are also making a bigger investment into digital marketing tools."
Microsoft recently renamed the service Office Live Small Business as it looks to use the Office Live brand for other products, including its Office Live Workspaces, an online document-sharing service.
With the new release, Microsoft is adding support for Firefox, specifically version 2.0, on both Macs and PCs.
The move comes as Yahoo made several changes to its small-business offering, including adding unlimited storage and transfer for its Web site hosting service. Of course, those products could become one at some point if Microsoft gets its way.
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