Microsoft Widens Hosted CRM Preview

Microsoft has expanded the preview of its hosted customer relationship management (CRM) offering to more partners and customers. In addition, the company is in the process of bringing out new features for its Office Live Small Business services offerings.

Formally known as Dynamics CRM Live, the product is actually a Microsoft-hosted edition of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, which shipped last month. The major difference is that CRM Live is hosted in Microsoft’s own datacenters, while CRM 4 is available for customers either to host on themselves or to outsource to Microsoft partners who provide hosting.

Both product lines – CRM 4/CRM Live, and Office Live Small Business – are part of Microsoft’s emerging software-plus-services strategy, meant to keep the company relevant in the Web 2.0 era.

The company began its “early access” program for CRM Live in September and plans to make the service commercially available during the first half of the year. It is available to customers in North America “who are looking to accelerate their adoption of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live,” group product manager Bill Patterson, said in a blog post Wednesday on the Dynamics CRM Team blog.

Additionally, Microsoft plans to roll out updates and new features for its Microsoft Office Live Small Business offering (previously called Office Live) over the next four to six weeks, according to a second blog. Office Live Small Business provides a set of Internet-based services for small businesses, designed to quickly get them up and running online.

Among the additions in coming weeks will be the ability for users to customize headers on their Web pages, and to add a blogging module via Windows Live Spaces. It also provides a redesigned contacts manager and improved synching with Outlook.

“All customers can now take advantage of full synchronization with Outlook 2007 for e-mail, personal contacts, calendar, and tasks,” the post on the Office Live Small Business team’s blog said.

While viewing the additions and changes as positive, one analyst found that generally, they constitute small improvements to the service.

“Synching seems like the most interesting thing,” said Matt Rosoff, an analyst that tracks Microsoft’s Live services strategy at researcher Directions on Microsoft. He said he was also pleased with the ability for users to use their own customized headers on Web sites.

What is now known as Office Live Small Business emerged from beta in November 2006. It was renamed in October 2007 from its original moniker, Office Live, when Microsoft introduced Office Live Workspaces, which is a separate offering for consumers and small businesses that enables users to store and share documents online, but not create or edit them.

Microsoft offers three editions of Office Live Small Business, including Basics, which is free. The company’s other two editions – Essentials and Premium – are available as monthly subscription offerings. Essentials costs $19.95 per month while Premium costs $39.95.

Microsoft did warn that there is one catch to the additions and updates, however.

“While we implement these changes there will be brief periods when service is unavailable…rest assured that we are working hard to minimize the impact to our customers, but we want you to be prepared,” said the post on the Office Live Small Business team’s blog.

Meanwhile, CRM Live is free during the beta test period. Once the service goes gold, Microsoft has a promotional price of $39.95 per month until the end of the year. Regular monthly pricing for the service from Microsoft will be $44.95 per user per month for the Professional edition and $59 for a version dubbed Professional Plus.

Adapted from

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