Collaboration is the name of the game in today’s team-oriented business environment. Microsoft provides a number of technologies that allow computer users to work together. Midsize and large businesses may host their own SharePoint, Live Meeting, and Office Communications Services servers or subscribe to Microsoft Online Services. But for small businesses and individuals whose collaboration needs are more limited, or those who need to store documents on a remote server for backup purposes or to access when traveling, those options constitute expensive overkill. Enter Office Live Workspace, which allows you to store and share Office documents easily. And best of all, it’s free.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in our 10 Things blog. It’s also available as a PDF download.

1: Signing up and signing in

To sign into Office Live Workspace, you’ll need an account. If you already have a Windows Live account, you can sign in with the email address and password associated with that account. If not, you’ll be prompted to create an account when you go to and click the Get Started Now button. You’ll be asked for an email address, and then you’ll have to fill out a form with some basic information: a password, your name, country/region, and the answer to a “secret question” (such as your mother’s birthplace or the name of your first pet) for password retrieval purposes. You’ll also have to decipher and type a pictogram (for discouraging bot or automated signups). You do not have to provide any credit card information; at this time, the service is free.

Be sure the email address you use to sign up is one with which you can actually get mail, since you won’t be able to activate the account if you use an address not associated with an inbox. You can use a Web mail email address, such as a Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo mail address. A notice will be sent to your email address; click the link to verify your address and activate your Live Workspace account.

2: What you can do

OLW is built on SharePoint Services and gives individuals and small businesses many of the benefits of SharePoint technology without requiring that you have your own SharePoint server. Once you’re signed up and signed in, you can create workspaces, which are essentially locations on Microsoft’s server where you can save your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files directly from the applications. You can also upload other files, such as PDFs and graphics. (You can’t upload executables, for security reasons.) You can give others permission to access specific documents and files and you can specify whether they’re allowed only to view the files or whether they can also edit them.

3: No client software required

Unlike with some other collaboration solutions, you don’t have to install any extra software on your computer, nor do others have to install software to share your documents. Everything is done through the Web browser, so you can access your workspace from practically any computer that has an Internet connection.

You don’t have to use Internet Explorer or Windows to use your Live Workspace account, either. In addition to IE 6, 7, or 8 running on Windows, Live Workspace supports Firefox on Windows or Mac OS X and Safari on Mac OS X.

4: Creating workspaces

When you sign into Live Workspace, you’ll see a pane on the left side of the page labeled My Workspaces. A Documents workspace is created by default. To create more workspaces, click the New Workspace link. You can create separate workspaces for different projects or for sharing with different people or groups. You can create a workspace from a template or from scratch. Templates include:

  • Class workspace
  • Essay workspace
  • Event workspace
  • Household workspace
  • Job search workspace

5: Uploading files directly from Office

If you have Microsoft Office installed (Office XP, 2003, or 2007), you can install the Office Live Update to integrate your local Office applications with Live Workspace.

Several updates must be installed before you can install the Office Live Update. When you run the setup program, you’ll be notified if any are missing and given the opportunity to install them. Note that you’ll need to close Word, Excel, and PowerPoint while you install the update. After you install the update, you’ll find a new selection on the Office menu in Office 2007 programs, Save To Office Live. In Office XP and 2003 applications, the Office Live option will appear as a new toolbar. For more info about saving documents to a workspace, see this Microsoft article.

6: Sharing with others

Sharing a document or file with others is simple. Once you’ve uploaded it to a workspace, you’ll see a Share link that allows you to type (or select from your Windows Live address book) the email addresses of those you want to be able to view the document and those you want to be able to edit it. An email invitation will be sent to each of the addresses you selected, inviting the person(s) to share your document. You can also allow people to view the document without signing in if you wish, although this is not the default setting.

7: Collaboration features

In addition to sharing the files themselves with others, you can add comments to documents, which will be visible to anyone who has access to the documents. You can also use the versioning feature to keep track of different versions of the documents. The Activity link displays all activity relating to the document, beginning with its creation, and shows who has accessed the document, who has edited it, with whom it’s been shared, etc., and the date and time of each activity. You also get email notifications when someone makes an update to one of your documents.

8: What about security?

You might be wondering about the security of documents and files you upload to Live Workspace. Be sure not to check the box to allow people to view the document without signing in if you’re concerned about security. With that option disabled, only those with a Windows Live account will be able to view your shared documents. The permissions you set further restrict who can view or modify which files. In addition, the files you upload have antivirus protection from Microsoft Forefront Security for SharePoint.

9: Using OLW as a backup solution

Most individuals and small businesses recognize the importance of making backup copies of important data, but often these backups are saved to a second hard drive (internal or USB), writable DVD, flash memory card, or thumb drive and stored in the same physical location as the computer. These backups can be used if there is a hardware failure, but what if there’s a natural disaster, fire, or other catastrophe that destroys the entire building? That’s the reason it’s important to store backups of your critical data offsite.

Office Live Workspace can be used for remote backup of your files, as you have up to 5 GB of storage space on the Microsoft server. Uploading your most important files to OLW ensures that you’ll have copies of them even if disaster strikes.

10: What if you need more?

If you need more than the free Live Workspace service offers, such as email services or the ability to put up a Web site, you can also sign up for Microsoft Office Small Business. Then you get a Web site, Web hosting and design tools, a contact management system, and online business applications. You can also purchase additional features, such as premium (advertising-free) email and more storage capacity. For a fee, you can register your own domain name and add other users (the first five are free). You can find out more about the small business service here.

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