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Originally published October 31, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 31, 2006 at 4:01 PM

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Microsoft finalizing Web-based software for small businesses

Microsoft is preparing to officially release software that helps small companies do things like build a Web site and maintain business contacts, and plans to link the product to its platform for selling online advertising.

The Associated Press

Microsoft is preparing to officially release software that helps small companies do things like build a Web site and maintain business contacts, and plans to link the product to its platform for selling online advertising.

Microsoft said Monday that it will officially release Office Live in the United States on Nov. 15, and simultaneously launch test versions of the software in France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Office Live, which has been available to U.S. companies in test form for more than eight months, is one element of Microsoft's major push to offer more Web-based products so it can compete with companies such as Google and Salesforce.com. Microsoft, which makes most of its money selling desktop-bound software such as the Windows operating system and Office business suite, is feeling increased pressure from companies that offer more advanced or cheaper tools online.

A free, ad-supported version of Office Live will give very small businesses the tools to create a Web site with a company domain name, plus 25 company-branded e-mail accounts. Microsoft will charge $19.95 or $39.95 per month for versions with more options for managing contacts and other business tasks.

Microsoft said about 160,000 small companies have used the test version of Office Live.

All the versions also will include Microsoft Office Live adManager Beta, which small companies can use to buy ads that run alongside the regular results from Microsoft's Web search engine, Live Search.

Baris Cetinok, director of product management for Office Live, said Microsoft is hoping to cash in on small companies' sales and marketing spending. Microsoft also is likely trying to gain traction for its online advertising sales platform, adCenter.

AdCenter is part of Microsoft's effort to better compete with Google, which has seen great success selling paid search links and other Web-based ads.

In recent newspaper advertisements, Microsoft admits that it was late in offering its own Web search technology, but urges people to try its product nonetheless.

Google has about 50 percent of the U.S. Web search market, compared with 9.2 percent for Microsoft, according to September data from Nielsen/Net Ratings.

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