Some Office 2007 beta testers can test drive a forthcoming service from Microsoft that helps users manage wireless connections when they are using Wi-Fi hotspots.

According to the Techlog blog, Microsoft this week allowed select beta testers of Office 2007 to preview a forthcoming service called Windows Live WiFi Center. Office 2007, in beta 2.0 now, is expected to be available to business users by the end of the year, and to consumers in early 2007.

Microsoft confirmed through its public relations firm yesterday that Windows Live WiFi Center is now available in a "limited, managed beta".

The service will offer users a simple and secure way to locate and connect to Wi-Fi "hotspots", or networks, globally, Microsoft said. It will provide users with encrypted connections for secure and nonsecure wireless network connectivity.

Key features of Windows Live WiFi Center include a network locator, which allows users to search for free and fee-based wireless networks all over the world, and network management, which lets users see what networks are around them and get information about the networks, including the network address, description, available amenities, service providers and signal strength.

Customers of the service can label networks as 'favourites' for future connections, track-connection history and manage network preferences.

Windows Live WiFi Center will provide built-in security, including a VPN (virtual private network), which lets users secure a connection on unsecured wireless networks, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also plans to launch the Windows Live WiFi Hotspot Locator website. The site helps people find wireless hotspots and is accessible through any PC.

Since Microsoft launched its Windows Live services in November, it has amassed a portfolio of web-based services, some of which were previously part of its MSN portfolio, and some of which are new. More information about Windows Live can be found here.

Windows Live got a lot of attention when it was first launched, but critics have become increasingly sceptical of whether Microsoft can use the services to drive advertising revenue and keep up with competitors Google and Yahoo.

They also are waiting to see when sales made through the company's adCenter paid-search advertising platform – which the Live services are supposed to support – will pick up steam. Microsoft launched adCenter in the US in May, but it has yet to contribute to the overall financial health of the company's MSN division, where the platform resides.