domain-micro.jpgChat boards are rumbling and grumbling with the news that Microsoft is going to make customers who signed up for free custom domains with Office Live Small Business start paying $14.95 a year as of Oct. 1. This despite the fact that its site still encourages small business owners to "Get a free web site and more." But few have bothered to ask Microsoft what's up. Turns out it's not quite as sweeping of a change as you might think.

I put in a call to Microsoft PR firm Waggener Edstrom in Portland, Ore., and got some background. Turns out many custom site subscribers already pay the $14.95 fee. It's just customers who signed up before Feb. 12, 2008 who ever got the free custom deal.

Small business owners can still get a free fourth-level domain at Office Live, such as http://yourbusiness.web.officelive.com, which is the offer the Office Live site is touting. But if you want Microsoft to host your www.yourbusiness.com site, you pay the fee.

In all, under $15 a year for hosting a custom site is still dirt cheap. Many of Microsoft's hosting services are still free. But when you've been promised something free and there's no caveat that it's a limited-time offer, I think the expectation is that it's going to stay free.

What do you think of Microsoft's move?