Now the killer: basic accounting -- free. Very smart move. Microsoft takes its 800-pound gorilla presence in the small-business accounting space and splits it: an Accounting Express version that comes free with an Office Live account. If you go for Office Live Premium, this even covers product sales on eBay -- with more virtual marketplace partnerships to come -- and credit card processing with Equifax -- added cost, but you can for it straight from Express.
So if you're starting a small business selling widgets, this gives you everything you need: a Web site, employee management tools, accounting tools, customer tools, and payment processing. And that's right now today: no beta, no research program, no waiting on new Web technologies to perfect themselves. Sign up and go. Or if you're an accountant, you can now use the Microsoft Accounting Professional Edition but still use Office Live to have complete access to your customers' books, whether they're using Professional or Express. You can also discuss those files while everyone's looking at them using the workspace feature. That's more than slick, that's real value add.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not pooh-poohing Google's research efforts to move along Web technology. More power to them. But in terms of giving customers something that's not just new but actually new and useful right this very minute, Microsoft scored big with Office Live. I hope they keep up the trend.