Office Live Workspace available to the public today

A public beta of Microsoft's Office Live Workspace launched today. This is the first widely available Office Live service, Microsoft says. The service provides what Microsoft terms as "a secure online workspace" where Office users can upload Word, PowerPoint, Excel or PDF files directly from Office applications and then access those files remotely over the Internet. Users can also collaborate with others on documents stored in workspaces, says Kirk Gregersen, Microsoft's office director of consumer and small business product management. Workspace is an example of the "software plus services" approach being touted by Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie, Gregersen says.

Enterprise workgroups might love Office Live Workspace but Gregersen also notes that IT executives have the choice of providing such file-sharing features in-house, through products like Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Groove 2007.

Many other online services already offer remote access and collaboration for Microsoft Office files. Obviously, Google Docs is the biggest competitor. But the ability to access the service from within Microsoft Office could give this service an edge, provided it performs well. Microsoft is also attempting to distinguish Workspace from its competitors by offering unique features. For instance, Workspace has a cool option where people can use it to organize events – sharing to-do lists, timelines, budgets, directions.

Enterprise executives should spend a little time playing with these online services as they are likely to come in through the back door as employees sign up for them. Enterprise files by the millions could wind up stored in these online services. The burden will still fall on IT's head to secure sensitive corporate information that may be contained in these files, even when IT is not involved in the process of signing up for the service or uploading the files. While IT executives don't want to block employees from using new online services that increase productivity, they do want to be prepared for the kinds of new security risks such services pose.

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