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Review: Microsoft Office Live Basics Vs. Google Apps For Your Domain

The race is on as Microsoft and Google vie for the attention of small businesses looking for free management applications online. Who's ahead?

Google Initial Setup
Transferring your mail and Web server information from your existing service to Google is not an easy task, but Google does an admirable job of helping you with the transfer.

For your e-mail to work with Google, you need to make changes to your existing Mail Exchange (MX) records, which control how incoming e-mail is routed for your domain. You need to make those changes with the registrar who has your DNS records (for example, Network Solutions or GoDaddy.) Similarly, to be able to create and host Web pages using Google, you need to make changes to your CNAME record with your registrar.

Don't expect any help from your registrar; they typically takes your money when you register a domain, and then leave you on your own. But the Google setup pages for transferring MX and CNAME records are a model of simplicity. They detail, in simple-to-follow steps, exactly how to make the changes. Besides the general instructions, you can find specific instructions for seven of the largest registrars, including GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Yahoo and others.

Google offers customized hands-on info to help you set up e-mail and Web hosting.
Click image to enlarge.

Setup literally takes minutes; what could have been a frustrating task is made exceedingly simple. There's only one drawback: You can't sign up through Google for a new domain. If you want to get a new domain, you'll have to first register it with a registrar, then walk through the Google setup steps.

Windows Live Setup
If you don't yet have a domain, Office Live presents an exceptionally simple way to register one and make it live, all in one step. Even better -- you don't have to pay for it. Unlike when you register with a conventional registrar, with Office Live it's free. (If you cancel your Office Live account, you get to keep your domain, which is registered through Melbourne IT . But you'll then have to pay the normal annual registration fee for the domain name.)

Getting a domain is about as simple as can be. Use Office Live to search for a domain name not yet taken. When you find one, sign in with a Windows Live account (free; formerly called a Windows Passport account.) Then fill in basic information, such as your name, address, and so on, and you're done. In less than five minutes, you'll have a free domain. The only odd part of the process is that you'll have to put in information about your credit card number, even though it won't be charged.

Office Live offers an exceptionally simple way to register a domain and make it live, all in one step.
Click image to enlarge.

What if you want to use an existing domain? Here's where things get a little sticky. You'll have to transfer the entire domain to Office Live's registrar. (At Google, you keep your domain with your existing registrar; you merely change your existing records.)

In theory, transferring a domain should be easy to do. On the page where you search for an available domain, there's a "Transfer current domain name" button that claims to automate the process. But registrars don't like losing business. So when you follow the wizard the button launches, the great odds are that you'll find out that your record has been "locked" by your registrar. You'll have to unlock it yourself; Windows Live offers no help in doing that. I have two words for you " good luck.

Once it's unlocked, though, transferring your domain is simple; just follow the steps and you can do it quickly and easily.

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