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Microsoft opens up Live Meeting

New subscription plans are added to the Web conferencing service to help it compete in a crowded market.

Microsoft is set to announce new subscription and licensing plans on Wednesday for its Live Meeting Web conferencing service.

The software giant will offer three new subscription plans to better accommodate usage patterns and will add Live Meeting to its volume licensing programs, the most common avenue for large corporate buyers to purchase Microsoft products.

Microsoft launched Live Meeting late last year, after it acquired specialist PlaceWare. The service enables users to present PowerPoint slides, jointly edit documents and perform other basic collaboration tasks over the Internet.

LiveMeeting, sold as a subscription service, competes in an increasingly crowded market that has taken off as companies look to cut travel costs and exploit broadband Internet connections. Web conferencing specialist WebEx dominates the market but faces challenges from newcomers such as Microsoft and Macromedia.

The new Live Meeting subscription plans include a "named user" model that allows unlimited meetings with up to 15 participants for a designated user. Businesses can also sign up for a "room model" for meetings with more than 15 people taking part--useful for corporate meeting rooms, said Jennifer Callison, Microsoft's director of product management for Live Meeting.

In addition, a "monthly minutes" program allows business to buy Live Meeting time in blocks of minutes that are good for one month, similar to a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan.

Callison said the plans were developed after extensive monitoring of the way initial customers have been using Live Meeting. "Organizations have different patterns depending on their size and how long they've been using Web conferencing," she said. "We're trying to ensure we have flexible models to accommodate them."