Over the weekend I finally decided to check out Microsoft Office Live Small Business. I wanted to see what it was all about and what I could actually do with it. Note: This is not to be confused with Microsoft Office Live Workspace on the same site. This is labeled as “an online extension of Microsoft Office” – and that’s totally different. If you have MS Office installed, you can use that. If not (which I don’t), you can’t.

In the past I did use Google Apps before – but more on that later.

What’s the point to either of these services?

What is it that makes Microsoft’izing or Google’izing your business stuff on the web worth it?

This can be answered in two ways.

First, there’s the future to think about. Business is becoming increasingly web-enabled. And if you’re still of the opinion that everything should be in-house, this is a very backwards way of thinking. Not only will you throw lots of money out the window in maintenance costs but there is absolutely no way that you – the business owner – have the reach, power or availability that either Microsoft or Google does. It doesn’t matter whether you have one employee or ten thousand. You’re not Microsoft or Google and that’s that.

Second, there’s accessibility. Both Microsoft or Google are accessible anywhere there’s an internet connection. On your computer, any computer in the office, on your web-enabled phone, at a client’s site, etc. You can’t buy accessibility like that if doing things in-house. In addition, both MS and G offer super-easy ways to share things out – securely. When networking with clients, the ability to easily connect with people is absolutely paramount, and again, you can’t buy in-house accessibility like that. It doesn’t exist on the inside. Only outside.

You most likely would be interested in either MS or G due to accessibility because that’s what counts the most.

Player 1: Microsoft Office Live Small Business

The name

Microsoft already gets a knock against them for yet another long-ass title. Nothing has changed there. Moving on..

The place

I do sincerely appreciate that MS finally came up with a nice easy-to-remember web address to get to this service: www.officelive.com. It’s ordinarily standard fare that MS will make their URLs as bad as their product titles, but not so on this product.

The interface

You won’t believe this, but Microsoft’s interface once within the system is actually super-easy to use. Even the colors they chose work well. It’s a nice friendly system where things are easy to locate, very readable and very obvious where everything is.

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What’s offered?

You can register a domain (i.e. the dot-com) thru Microsoft or transfer a domain over. In addition you can design the site with easy-to-use templates. And don’t worry, this is not one of those cheeseball Geocities-style crap things. The templates actually look good and are functional.

E-Mail Marketing is a service offered – and to be honest I’ve never seen this offered in a service like this before. It’s not free but there is a free trial. After that you can bust out 200 e-mails a month for $9.95 a month. If you need more you can go all the way up to 2,500 mails a month for $39.95. And if you need to send out more than 2,500 e-mails.. well.. maybe you need something a little larger than a “small business” offering. 🙂

Office Live Mail is another service offered with the option to integrate into Microsoft Outlook or operate solely via the web. You can administer accounts as well.

adManager (yes that’s the proper case for the word) is there for purchasing stuff to promote your web site. However it’s for Live.com, Live.com and Ask.com – and not Google. Bleah.

Store Manager is available which quickly sets up your site as a commerce destination. Microsoft mentions that eBay integration is easy, so if you run an eBay store this is a no-brainer.

There are more services such as the Contact Manager, Document Sharing, Small Business Partner Directory and more. To explain everything would make this article way too long (as if it isn’t already long enough as it is). 🙂 So go check it out.

This is the Microsoft we were waiting for

Microsoft’s primary goal has always been business-centric stuff. The fact that there’s something for the “little guy” businesspeople that’s accessible, easy and has a ton of options is nice.

By using this you will also get some good insight into where Microsoft is going web-wise. I’m hoping they enable their other products to work like Office Live Small Business does.

Player 2: Google Apps

The name

Where Microsoft fails in the name department, Google shines. It’s just Google Apps. Two words.

The place

While MS has an easy-to-remember name, Google’s is easier. It’s just http://www.google.com/a.

The interface

Google is behind in the interface department. The way in which things are presented are bland to the point where user-friendliness is somewhat lost.

The best way to describe Google’s interface is “cold”. Yes, it does the job and yes it does it quickly and efficiently, but it still at times feels like you’re fighting with the system rather than working in it.

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In addition, G insists on having you do things “The Google Way”. This means you will either love it or hate it – and there’s no in between.

For those who would ask if Microsoft does the same thing, the answer is no, they don’t. A good example of this is Hotmail. The interface allows for mail to be in a list on the left or on the top. You can sort in any number of ways without the need for filters. It’s seemingly little things like that that empower the user (you). Google doesn’t do that and probably never will. Some love it, others hate it.

What’s offered?

Google admittedly does not offer as much as Microsoft does, however they do offer the stuff that counts the most, namely messaging apps and collaboration apps.

For example, in Google Docs you can create and manage documents and spreadsheets easily. Granted, their apps don’t hold a candle to what Microsoft Office and OpenOffice offer feature-wise, but the fact they’re there, fast and usable is what matters. In addition, you can import formats other than Microsoft-specific, such as the OpenOffice ODT format. Can’t do that with Microsoft’s version.

The collaborative features are about the same as what Microsoft offers, however the way in which G does suffers from their own user interface.

If for example you share out a document from within Google Apps, the system prompts you to enter in addresses. If you “choose from contacts”, another window opens up and turns into a mess in short order.

Microsoft’s way of doing it is much cleaner. You can share the doc itself or your screen, and can pick’n’choose “editors” (those who can edit the doc) or “viewers” (those who can view the doc) super-easy style. Google needs to improve their user interface to at least match this.

Google is still powerful and fast

There is no denying that the G has the goods where it matters. As such they have attracted several big-player corporations and educational institutions to completely switch over to their services – all web-based. And that’s definitely something to bear in mind.

The bad news about both

Google, as noted above, suffers from a sub-par user interface. It needs an overhaul.

Microsoft closely ties their web-based stuff with Microsoft Office. This sucks because everything should be able to be accomplished in-browser without the need for external local apps.

Google is not offering enough to the small-biz owner to truly take advantage of all the stuff you can do on the internet. AdWords for example, isn’t in Google Apps at all (unless I’m mistaken – but I didn’t see it in there). They need to put more into the package or at least integrate more of their existing services.

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Microsoft (yet again) suffers slightly from offering too much stuff, or stuff that simply doesn’t matter. The live.com search engine is well-known to be light years behind compared to Google search. The fact Microsoft even offers paid Live.com search engine “booster” stuff is a joke.

Neither has any blogging capability integrated whatsoever. Microsoft has Live Spaces, Google has Blogger. Both work well. Why can’t either integrate their respective blog services into their biz offerings? Businesses do blog, you know. So whether you’re using Google Sites or a “Business Web Site” from Microsoft, both are static and scream Web 1.0 in abundance. C’mon guys.. get into the present, will you?

Is one better than the other?

This is not an easy question to answer.

Microsoft is leading the charge with a slick super user-friendly interface and super-easy access to set up shop fast. But those ties to locally installed MS Office and the fact you can’t create documents online without it? Not good.

Google is fast, lean and  mean. But they’re falling behind in the interface and offerings. However they are more accessible on a mobile level.

Like I said, this is not an easy question to answer.

The unfortunate reality of both is that you can’t just jump ship from one to the other at whim. Once you commit your biz stuff to either service, you really have to commit in order to get good use out of it.

I will say this:

Microsoft’s way of small-biz truly is catered to the small-biz owner. It is easier than Google to use and will streamline tedious tasks without a problem. Smaller biz owners will truly like the system. The interface is very much like using a true-blue local app.

Google Apps is more tailored towards large enterprise. When using it there is no mistaking that it says “I mean business”, cold corporate look and all. But it’s the power underneath that makes G work so well.

Google has tenure and stability. But Microsoft has caught up and is really making strides in the web-world, and what they offer is, said honestly, really good.

The decision of which suits your needs best is ultimately up to you. Evasive answer, yes, but you’re the biz owner with your own needs.

Choose wisely.