Microsoft on Wednesday began offering electronic services free of charge to users of the company's Office desktop productivity suite via a Microsoft Office Web site.
The software company previously offered a small number of office productivity features at its Office Update site -- http://www.officeupdate.microsoft.com -- including templates, clip art, pictures, sounds and online reference tools, Microsoft said.
The site's e-services offering has been expanded to include more sophisticated software-based services that make it possible for Office users to store files so that other users of the Microsoft suite can view and change them, look up information, publish PowerPoint documents on the Web, and receive voice messages, e-mail and faxes in a single inbox, the release said.
Microsoft is also officially offering users the capability to print postage stamps on their own printer via an existing tie-up with E-Stamp. This service has been available in "pilot" mode since August, but Wednesday's announcement should be considered its official general release, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman. E-Stamp announced in July that its Internet postage service would be featured on Microsoft's Office Update Web site.
The E-Stamp starter kit is being offered at the Office Update site for free as a special holiday promotion. Stamps.com, a competitor to E-Stamp, also offers Internet postage through Office Update.
Web publishing services available today via the Office Update site are being offered via Microsoft partnerships with a trio of companies supporting its FrontPage Server extensions: Tripod, Angelfire and Talk City. The service makes it possible for Office customers to take a Word document or a slide created in PowerPoint and post it directly to the Internet through the Office Update "Your Page on the Web" eService. Tripod, Angelfire and Talk City act as Web presence providers to facilitate the Web publishing services, the Microsoft spokeswoman said.
The unified messaging service lets users receive faxes, voicemail and e-mail in their Microsoft Outlook inbox by using eFax.com's unified messaging service. All voicemail messages and incoming faxes are free. There is a nominal charge to send a fax, Microsoft said in the statement.
Office Update's file storage and sharing provides users with a place to back up their Office documents or store them for easy access from any Internet-connected PC through the Driveway.com service. Users can also give colleagues or friends access to these files on a folder-by-folder basis, Microsoft said. The first 25MB of storage space is free.
Office users also now have access to an information look-up service at Office Update for finding phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses, the software vendor said. Microsoft is offering the service in conjunction with InfoSpace.com. Once the information has been found, Office customers can automatically add it to their Outlook contacts list with a mouse click.
Next year Microsoft will add language translation to the site, allowing users to have up to a page of text translated for free.
More than 2 million Office users currently visit Office Update each month, according to the Microsoft release.