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9/18/2006
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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?

Overall Integration
Both services are designed for organizations that don't have IT staffs for maintaining mail and Web servers. So integrated tools for managing mail, Web access, and the overall account are particularly important.

Here's where Windows Office Live has very serious shortcomings. In fact, it appears that Windows Live is just a collection of unrelated services, rather than an integrated whole. Managing your site and account is maddening and confusing; expect to bumble around for quite a long time before you accidentally stumble on the proper way to do things -- if you manage to stumble on it at all.



Google offers a simple overall management page.
Click image to enlarge.



You need to have a Windows Live ID (formerly Microsoft Passport) in order to set up an account, which means you need a pre-existing Hotmail or Windows Live Mail account. But unaccountably, after you create your new Office Live account, when you click Inbox, you won't be able to access your new Office Live e-mail. Instead, you'll be sent to your original Hotmail or Windows Live mail account.

That's bad enough, but when you go to that old mail account, all of your site management tools vanish as well, because clicking Inbox sends you away from your new Office Live account.

So how to get to use your new Office Live e-mail account? Log out of the account you used to create that account, then log in again with your Office Live username and password. Ahh! Someone help me, please!

That's confusing enough. What if you now want to manage your Office Live account, by adding new email users, for example? You can't, because the Office Live account you're using wasn't the one you used to set up Office Live --- your original e-mail account was. So log out, log in again with the original account, and add a new users. Want to check your Office Live e-mail now? You guessed right -- you'll have to log out of your Hotmail account, and log back in with your Windows Live account.

I could go on, but you get the point. Just trying to do the most basic tasks will make your head spin.

Google, on the other hand, uses classic, simple, Google no-frills navigation. When you're checking your mail, for example, click "Manage this domain," and you'll be sent to an overall management page with links for managing and creating user accounts, managing and editing your Web site, changing domain settings, and so on.

The Bottom Line
Which of the sites is better? Overall, Google Apps for Your Domain is a clear winner. It offers superior e-mail, better site management, and has a group calendar, an important component to running a small business and something that Office Live lacks.

If, however, you're mainly looking for a free service that has excellent Web site creation tools, you'll want Office Live.

The truth is, though, you can't beat free, so whichever site you choose, you'll end up being a winner.

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