Microsoft isn't the first company to offer free online storage, of course - Adrive (50GB), humyo (10GB) and fileQube (2GB) are just three that come up when you Google ‘free online storage' and, of course, there's Microsoft's own Skydrive (25GB), if all you need is offsite storage. Microsoft is one of the first non-start-up companies to offer free online storage, though, and the first, with Office Live Workspace, to integrate it with Office applications.
Microsoft offers just 500MB of free storage, which may not seem much, but points out this equates to 1,000 ‘average'-sized Office files. As the name suggests, it's designed to work with Office and there's a download for Office 2003 and 2007 which enables the main applications to work directly with files held on Office Live Workspace.
One of the key features of Office Live Workspace is its ability to share documents, uploaded by the owner of a workspace, with other people, either to view or edit. As the basis of peer review which isn't restricted by geographical location, it makes a lot of sense. Sharing a document online, rather than having to send copies as email attachments and wait for each to be returned before integrating comments or changes into a single document, can be a lot more productive.
A workspace screen can also be shared, in the same way whiteboards and applications can be shared via Messenger. Again, though, an extra utility has to be downloaded first, in this case Microsoft SharedView, before this sharing works.
There are a few rough edges to the workspace offering, which are made clear through some of the Office Live forums. There is no facility for creating folders within your workspace, for example, so it can be difficult to organise documents, and moving files from one workspace to another can take a long time.
Microsoft offers a variety of different workspaces with purpose-designed documents to act as memory aids. For example, the event workspace includes placeholder documents for an agenda, an invitation, directions to the venue, a list of people you've invited (we can't bring ourselves to use the Microsoft term ‘invitees'), a to-do list and a flyer for the event.
There are predesigned workspaces not just for business use, but for student and personal use, too. If you use Office Live Workspace to its full extent, there's little doubt it can be a useful organisational tool, as well as a place to store documents.
Microsoft's recent announcement that it intends to merge Windows Live and Office Live could well bring Office integration of Office Live Workspace to the full 5GB of Skydrive. There are plenty of other overlaps in the two offerings, too, and it could prove to be a useful extension of both services.