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Microsoft Expands Office Live Workspace Beta Worldwide

After nearly three months of private beta testing involving about 100,000 users, Microsoft Office Live Workspace (OLW) is being rolled out worldwide as a full public beta. Previously, participants had to be qualified by Microsoft for the beta; now, it's open to all comers who wish to create workspaces. Microsoft has also revved OLW with new features and enhancements.

Office Live Workspace is a Web-based suite of office tools that's designed to complement Microsoft Office and that includes features for online document sharing and collaboration. It was announced originally in October; then it went into private beta in December. It's also a part of Live@edu, Microsoft's portal, communications and collaboration suite for education. OLW users can upload Office files through the service and set permissions on document viewing and collaboration. Live@edu has been around since 2005 but only incorporated OLW in the last quarter of 2007.

Full Beta Rollout, Enhanced Features
The full public beta of Office Live Workspace went live on March 4 at 12:01 a.m. EST. At present, it's available only in English, although Microsoft told us that it plans to support additional languages in 2008. Said Guy Gilbert, group product manager for Microsoft's Office Live Workspace, "We're still working on that timeline, but we will introduce other languages in other markets later this year."

The beta previously required users to preregister for the service and for beta participants to be qualified by Microsoft. Gilbert said that "hundreds of thousands" of people have already preregistered. Now the preregistration and qualification restrictions have been lifted.

Microsoft incorporated several features suggested by initial beta participants as reflected in OLW and Live@edu, explained Bruce Gabrielle, product marketing manager for Microsoft's Live@edu, in a phone interview.

"As the program has evolved, we continue to include more applications from Microsoft product groups into Live@edu," Gabrielle said. "In addition to adding a lot of applications to the suite, the applications themselves -- as we move from a software-only company to a software plus Web services company -- those products also evolve very, very rapidly. And so Office Live Workspace ... has already gone through a round of customer feedback and improvements, and so we have a lot of enhancements to the Live@edu suite because of the improvements to Office Live Workspace."

These improvements, for now, include:

  • E-mail notifications about changes to documents, including added comments;
  • A new, expanded Activity Panel that now includes information about changes to workspaces, including the date and time of the changes, the users who made the changes and links to changed documents;
  • Permalinks for workspaces;
  • Support for multiple file uploads; and
  • Various improvements to the sharing workflow, including a streamlined UI.

Expanded Participation in Education
Gilbert said that there's been some "good momentum" for Office Live Workspace among education customers in the United States. Several higher education institutions joined the Office Live Workspace University Early Adopter Program back in October 2007 -- the same time OLW was formally announced as a suite.

Early Adopter participants included Ball State University, DeVry University, Florida Community College at Jacksonville, Indiana University, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Michigan State University, University of Illinois, the University of Pennsylvania, Rio Salado College of the Maricopa Community Colleges, University of Washington, and Vanderbilt University.

Microsoft said that another university it's been working with, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, will be rolling out Office Live Workspace today for its entire campus. This represents some 16,000 students and alumni and 700 faculty. The move, according to Microsoft, is "part of a broader Live@edu initiative."

Live@edu, since its launch three years ago, has been used by more than 600 schools in 40 countries.

The free Live@edu service provides, in addition to OLW functionality, 5 GB of e-mail space and 5 GB of password-protected storage. Its services, which include blogging and shared calendars, can be accessed via the Web or through mobile devices.

Beta Sweepstakes Kicks Off
Coinciding with the full beta launch, Microsoft has announced a new sweepstakes open to anyone who signs up for the Office Live Workspace service between March 4 and May 11.

There will be 30,000 daily and weekly prizes, including Xbox 360 Elite systems, Zune players, smart phones, and software, along with a $100,000 grand prize. Users can accumulate up to two bonus entries for uploading documents and sharing a document or workspace. Winners will be announced around May 15, according to the company.

About the Author

Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

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