Earlier this year, Microsoft Office Live Small Business (Originally Microsoft Office Live) launched several improvements to their service. I use this service to host my own Web site (LockworldHerald.com), and I’ve blogged about it in the past. Although they no longer offer free domain name registration, they do continue to offer free Web site hosting (which is typically far more expensive than the domain name registration anyway). In the past, I found the service to be very useful to establish an online presence for myself, but was continually frustrated at how difficult it was to edit pages using the built-in page editor. In the end, I simply uploaded all of my Web pages manually to the “Documents” folder – the only folder I had any access to. This allowed me to create my own pages by writing my own HTML codes, but was getting difficult to manage as the number of files grew.
The new improvements to the site now allow even free account holders to design their site using their own Web design tools (I typically use WordPad or Nvu, but other Web authoring/design tools can be used as well). This new structure allows me to keep my site more organized, but more importantly, it gives me access to the top-level of my site. There are certain Web services that require authentication by checking for files in the root directory (Like Google Web Apps and Delorie). In addition to making such services available, having access to the root directory also gives me the ability to create a robots.txt file that can tell search engine bots to avoid indexing certain file types or folders. Since I use a lot of AjaxIncludes scripting, this is a very nice way to keep all of those partial Web pages out of the search engine results.
Another improvement to the service is to make it easier to upload files and folders to the Web server. Previously, I had to upload files manually using a Web interface, which made it very difficult to work with changes to my site. I had to manually delete the files that I wanted to upgrade from my site, then go through and select the new files to upload. Now, however, I can simply drag the files from my computer to the Web folder and it will automatically overwrite the existing files. To make things even easier, I can even drag and drop whole folders at the same time.
The ability to use my own design tools also makes it easier to keep things up to date, and even host my own RSS feed on the site. I use Listgarden to create and manage my feeds, which has the added benefit of being able to export a “human-readable” HTML file along with the XML codes for the feed. Now, I can easily drag and drop the whole folder from my local folder to my Web folder (Unfortunately, Microsoft Office Live Small Business Basics doesn’t offer FTP uploads), and my feed and my HTML page(s) are updated at the same time. I’ll discuss Listgarden in more detail shortly on The Web for You.
While still not a perfect solution, the level of service offered by the free Microsoft Office Live Small Business makes it a very powerful service for anyone wanting to create an online presence. If you need your own domain name (www.yoursite.com), you should be able to buy one for $10-15/year and simply point it to your free MOLSB site.
There is still one major drawback to MOLSB, which is that you are not permitted to use any kinds of server-side scripts or code in your pages. It would be great to be able to write dynamic Web pages using Active Server Pages (ASP), or to build and access SQL databases, but unfortunately, this isn’t possible.
Currently, I’m migrating my old site over to the new structure. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but eventually, all of my Web pages will be organized into a proper folder structure. As I work on this, there will be a few inconsistencies on my site, with some links directing visitors to the new pages, and others pointing back to the older versions. But eventually, I think the new structure will be easier to manage, at least for me.
Anyone looking to create their own Web site, but unwilling or unable to pay for monthly Web-hosting fees should consider Microsoft Office Live Basics for their hosting needs.