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It would be easy to pass over Microsoft's Office Live offerings as simply a supplement to its office retail products. While Office applications can certainly be used to get the best out of the online product, there's a lot to be said for making use of Office Live, even if you don't use Word, Excel and their siblings.

The company starts by offering you free online storage, 500MB of it, where you can upload and store Office files, or any other files you may need access to. Then there's free Web hosting, where you can put your personal or small business website for the world to see and, if you want, to buy from. You're not left on your own to put together that site, either, as there is a good set of online tools available to create a good-looking, if slightly tame, site with some trimmings.

Once the site is up and running, a variety of tracking and analysis tools can be applied to work out where your traffic is coming from, what it is doing when it arrives at your site and how to attract more of it.

Then there are online tools, such as a schedule for appointments and meetings, a contact manager which includes a lot more than names and addresses and a load of other applets that can improve your business productivity. All this is currently free, in the same way that Internet Explorer is free - Microsoft is not completely mercenary.

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