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Microsoft Office ready to go 'Live'?

Microsoft will soon begin a beta program for Office Live, a set of services aimed at small business users, according to LiveSide, a Web site dedicated to tracking Microsoft's Live-branded set of products.

Postings this week on the Web site indicate that Microsoft is set to release the beta of Office Live "any day now" and it will be aimed at very small businesses with little or no IT staff.

Windows Live, a Web page for aggregating Web content and email, is aimed primarily at consumers. By contrast, Office Live is designed for small businesses.

According to the company's Web site, Office Live is a set of online services to help small businesses establish "a professional presence online."

That includes business applications, such as customer, project, and document management tools and a Microsoft-maintained Web site to share information with people inside and outside a company.

Microsoft launched the Live initiative in November shortly after a major reorganization that prioritized hosted services.

With services, Microsoft is seeking to capitalize on advertising-supported software services, as rival Google has. But the company is also trying to appeal to business customers.

Behind business-oriented Live services is what the company calls "servers equals services," the notion that the company's server products can be run at a customer's premises or offered as a service over the Internet, according to Microsoft executives.

In a September interview with CNET, company chairman Bill Gates said that business customers are the primary target for Microsoft's Web services.

"We have a lot of expansion ourselves in this (services) area. It's not just consumers. A lot of it, actually the majority of this, is focused on businesses. We're giving them a choice of how they do IT, and some of it is through services," Gates said.