The latest collaboration tools: Microsoft Live Spaces and IBM Lotus Live Engage

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Microsoft and Lotus are once again squaring off at each other in the collaboration arena with two services that have very complex names starting with "Live." The idea is to provide Web services that require minimal downloads and enable teams of people to work on various projects. The two offerings have somewhat different feature sets. Let's look at Lotus Live Engage first.

The Engage service is available here. It includes 1 GB of storage and can be tried out for free for 30 days, after which it is $15 a month per user. Engage has a bunch of different offerings, but at its core is the ability to set up ad hoc Web meetings that can share presentations, live video, and text chats. If you have used Webex or Goto Meeting, you can easily get started with this offering. You might need to download the right Java client to share the live video, but other than that you can be set up and working within 15 or so minutes once you get all the various account creation stuff out of the way. You can create a shared repository for your files, assign various access rights to particular users or make them public, conduct quick online surveys, and share charts from desktop data sets. The free trial can support up to 99 users and have up to 14 people meet and share a desktop. If you use the Sametime Instant Messenger software, you can integrate your sessions with that client too.

How does this compare with Webex? They offer a 15-day free trial with up to 25 participants. Once that is done, the cost is $69 a month. Goto Meeting has 30 days free for up to 15 attendees, $49 a month afterwards. So Lotus Live is less expensive, and definitely worth a look if you don't currently use either of these services.

Let's move on to Microsoft Live. The most noticeable thing here is that it is completely free, and they have focused more on the storage area: you get 25 GB (that's right, 25 gigabytes) of storage for free per user as part of their Skydrive service. Granted, a gigabyte isn't what it used to be, but still that is significant. You can set up a free Web site under the .spaces.live.com address, and you can also set up an inexpensive Web site for less than $15 a year. There is also a common group calendar and the ability to create and edit documents online, similar to what Google Docs offers, as part of their Office Live service. Office Live will require at least IE v6 or Firefox. Here is a complete list of all their services.

Microsoft Live is more useful for smaller businesses that are just getting started online, or if you need a quick online storage repository that is free.

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