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4/13/2006
05:35 PM
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Microsoft Office Live Beta Gets Traffic Spike

Look out, domain registrars, Microsoft has seen more than a 50% spike in the number of users of Office Live beta.

Microsoft Corp. has seen more than a 50 percent spike in the number of users of Office Live beta in the last week, and at least one analyst said Thursday that's bad news for domain registrars.

Despite the name, Office Live has nothing to do with Microsoft's popular Office productivity suite. Instead, it's a Web site hosting service for small businesses that at its basic level is free and provides a domain name, design tools for building a site, five email accounts and traffic reports.

Since the waiting list for the service was dropped April 5, the number of domain names had jumped to 43,169 on April 12 from 28,623, according to Ipwalk.com, a statistical service for the Web operated by the Swedish company Ipwalk AB.

If the number of Office Live users continue to rise as expected, then it could hurt the businesses of domain registrars who charge for their services, particularly their low-end products, Joe Wilcox, analyst for JupiterResearch, said. Microsoft, which is known for quickly dominating markets by undercutting competitors' prices, also offers paid Office Live services with more advanced features.

"It's a bargain," Wilcox said of the Office Live basic service. "There are many other services that charge fees, particularly for domain registration."

Before April 5, Microsoft had used a waiting list to control the number of hosted sites, occasionally sending out special product keys that businesses on the list could use to join the service.

On Microsoft's Office Live blog, Matt Rolak, a lead developer of the product, said the waiting list has had more than 275,000 signers since the service launched in November 2005.

As of April 5, the beta is open to any U.S. resident with a valid credit card. A waiting list, however, could be used again, if demand exceeds capacity.

"Product keys and the waitlist are off for now, but may come back again at a later date," Rolak said. "We may have to turn them back on if demand exceeds our expectations and capacity for the beta."

Office Live is among a number of services Microsoft has launched as part of its initiative to also offer all of its packaged software as Web services. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced the strategy last November at a San Francisco news conference.

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