Microsoft is taking its next step into the cloud with the beta launch of Office 365, which combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online into a unified cloud platform. The limited beta launch will take place among a few thousand companies in 13 countries and regions, with general availability expected in 2011.
Those interested can sign up for the beta at Office365.com.
Although Microsoft built its fortune as a desktop-centric entity, the company has recently embraced an "all in" cloud strategy. A major component of that strategy involves offering a variety of cloud-based IT services to corporations. The strategy comes at a time when Microsoft finds many of its traditional offerings challenged by Web-centric upstarts such as Salesforce.com and competing cloud products along the lines of Google Docs.
For businesses, Microsoft has previously articulated its cloud strategy in the form of its BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which bundled products such as SharePoint Online. BPOS has now been rebranded Office 365, and given added capabilities that should remove all doubt about Microsoft's intentions as a cloud-applications host.
For businesses with fewer than 25 employees, Microsoft plans to offer an Office 365 suite with Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online for $6 per month.
Office 365 for enterprises will include more granular pricing options. For the monthly cost of $2 per user, mid-sized and large businesses can equip their personnel with basic e-mail. More expensive options include Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop software with e-mail, voicemail, enterprise social networking, Web portals and other features for a monthly cost of $24 per user.
For more, read the eWeek article Microsoft Office 365 Offers SharePoint, Exchange, Office on a Cloud Platform.