Microsoft this week unveiled small a shift in its online strategy. Now, the services which are aimed at individuals and small businesses it offers will be marketed under the Live umbrella. These services include existing offerings such as Windows Live, Office Live, and Xbox Live. Meanwhile, a new group of enterprise-oriented offerings will also be offered. These will be marketed with the "Online" brand, Microsoft says, and will include such things as Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Office SharePoint Online, and Microsoft Office Communications Online.

The company also announced a new Live offering, dubbed Office Live Workspaces, which provides a Web-based storage and collaboration space for users of Microsoft Office. The service doesn't offer any Web-based editing capabilities, unlike online office productivity services from Google and others, but rather requires users to continue using desktop-based Office applications. Office Live Workspaces is aimed at consumers, students, and small businesses, and is free. A beta version is available beginning today and the service will be expanded to others in the near future, Microsoft says.

According to the software giant, the new online services moves are a continuation of its wider "software + services" strategy, by which it will "synthesize" elements of its desktop and enterprise offerings with Web-based services. This strategy, Microsoft says, makes more sense than trying to move computing completely into the cloud as some of its competitors are attempting. "We believe these choices will provide businesses with the flexibility to choose the software and capabilities that best suit their business needs, whether hosted by Microsoft, on-premise with the customer, or hosted by a Microsoft partner," says Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business division.

"We believe that the future of technology at work will be a combination of local software on client PCs or on-premise servers, along with services available in the 'cloud,'" Raikes says. "Our approach is to give customers the choice, flexibility and power of both software plus services. Think of it as a continuum, ranging from pure software to pure services approaches. Most customers will be somewhere in the middle."