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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?

No surprise here; when it comes to e-mail, Google beats Office Live hands-down. That's because Google uses Gmail for its e-mail, while Office Live uses Windows Live Mail. As we've detailed in Is Google Still the Ajax King?, Gmail is far superior to Windows Live Mail, offering threaded conversations and excellent ways to organize e-mail, including powerful rules and filters. And it allows you to either use it as Web-based mail or POP-based mail, or a combination of the two.

Getting to your Office Live Mail account is confusing, and there's no obvious way to get from Mail to managing your site.
Click image to enlarge.

By way of contrast, Live Mail is not nearly as well-organized, buries some of its more useful features, and doesn't offer POP3 access. In addition, Office Live gives you only five accounts for your organization, while Google offers 25.

The Google Calendar is straightforward and intuitive (for a full review, see Google Calendar Beta: A Hot Date). To create an event, merely click on the date and time, fill out a simple form, and you're done.

If it's an event to which you want to invite others, you just have to include their e-mail addresses, and the invitation will be automatically sent out in iCalendar (.ics) format. When someone accepts the invitation, their acceptance is automatically placed in the calendar. In addition, if they don't use Google Calendar, and instead use another calendaring program or Web site that is compatible with the iCalendar format, the meeting will show up in their calendar when they open the .ics file.

Creating a group event in the Google Calendar is easy: fill out this page, and the notification gets sent to everyone on the list.
Click image to enlarge.

Outlook, Notes, Apple's iCal, and other calendars and calendar sites are compatible with the iCalendar format, to varying degrees. So in Outlook, for example, there is no active updating of the event; rather, the new file needs to be opened each time.

Google's iCalendar support is particularly useful when scheduling meetings with people outside your organization. You could create a meeting request, have it sent out in the .ics format to people inside your organization as well as outside. Those in your organization would have the meeting show up in the Google calendar. Those outside the organization would have it show up in their iCalendar-compatible calendars. If the recipient's calendar isn't compatible with iCalendar, they will see the meeting request as a plain email invitation.

Google's simple and automated group scheduling is well-suited for small organizations; it offers pretty much all they need, and will save the expense of buying network-based calendar software.

There is one drawback to the Google Calendar, though; unaccountably, it doesn't work with Internet Explorer 7. The browser is still in beta, so it may be that upon launch, the problem will be solved. But as of this writing, you'll have to use or Firefox or an earlier version of IE.

Office Live doesn't offer a calendar; if you're looking for that, you'll have to buy one of Microsoft's for-pay versions of its service.

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