The world's largest software company is targeting some of the world's smallest businesses.
Office Live, a set of Web-based tools and services for business with 10 or fewer employees, will go live Wednesday after nine months of testing.
To date, Office Live has attracted some 190,000 businesses and is supported by major partners including
, says Marja Koopmans, director of partner strategy for the program.
Despite its name, Office Live is not an online version of Microsoft Office, one of the software giant's most important cash cows.
It does, however, help small businesses take care of accounting chores, build Web sites, track customers and buy keywords for paid search results.
The latter effort is particularly important as Microsoft vies with
and others to grab a bigger slice of the $5 billion businesses spent last year to place ad content on or near Internet searches.
The basic offering is free, but customers wanting more robust services can subscribe to Office Live for $19.95 a month; a premium version costs $39.95 a month.
The cost of the free service will be underwritten by ads sold to companies providing services for small businesses.
AdManager is a feature of Office Live. It acts as a hub allowing small businesses to manage the purchase of keywords via multiple search engines.
Initially, AdManager will work only with Microsoft's AdCenter, but the company is in talks with other search-engine providers.
Partners like Toshiba will make money via referrals; the Japanese computer maker plans to put a link to Office Live on its notebooks, says Koopmans.