Microsoft launched a public beta of its new cloud service for businesses today, Office 365, a service that has Google's Apps for Business squarely in its sights.
Office 365 wraps familiar Microsoft tools such as the Office productivity applications in an always-up-to-date cloud service package that includes SharePoint’s document management functions, Exchange Online’s email, calendar and contact features and Lync Online, a communications service that integrates enterprise voice, instant messaging and web-, audio- and videoconferencing.
This cloud offering, which replaces the more limited features of Microsoft Live Small Business (Microsoft's earlier cloud offering for small businesses), was introduced in a private beta last year. The service, which was tested by more than 100,000 organizations — including independent professionals and large corporations — saw small businesses as the majority of its early adopters .
“We’ve been in the cloud for years supporting very large enterprises such as Shell and DuPont, but Office 365 takes that same technology power and delivers it to small businesses,” Kirk Koenigsbauer, a Microsoft Office vice president, said in a statement. “More than 70 percent of the people who signed up for the limited beta were small businesses, so it clearly strikes a chord.”
Availability of applications has always been a sensitive issue for cloud computing. Microsoft directly addresses that with a guarantee of being available 99.9 percent of the time.
Office 365 comes in two packages. Small Business Office 365 is designed for companies with up to25 users, but can accommodate as many as 50. The target market is companies that have no IT staff or a very limited IT capability. Enterprise Office 365 is designed for an unlimited number of users.
Small Business Office 365, a pure cloud offering that does not include Office desktop software, costs $6 per user per month. The beta product will become final later this year, Microsoft said.
Google Apps has more than 3 million business users.
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