Microsoft has introduced the public beta of its Office 365, the company's cloud-productivity offering and current best chance for driving back the threat presented by Google Apps and similar platforms. Microsoft has a habit of launching large-scale betas for its products, the better to apparently weed out bugs and other issues ahead of the general release.
The Office 365 beta will be available in 38 markets and 17 languages and joins Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online. The service's starting price is $6 per user per month. In addition, Microsoft is launching the Office 365 Marketplace, with more than 100 productivity apps and 400 professional services.
Microsoft originally launched Office 365 in limited beta in October 2010, announcing at the time that general availability would come sometime in 2011. The platform is essentially a rebranding of the company's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which bundled products such as SharePoint Online.
The software giant has also expressed interest in selling Office 365 as a customizable platform, allowing companies with simpler needs to access fewer products. For the past several months, Microsoft has been aggressive in pushing an "all-in" cloud strategy, major components of which involve pushing a variety of cloud-based IT services to corporations. The push comes just as Microsoft faces competition not only from Google, which wants to secure large IT contracts with corporations and government entities, but also upstarts such as Salesforce.com, which have taken to attacking many of Microsoft's current offerings as outdated.
In virtually every public speech, for example, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff extols the enterprise IT future as mobile-centric and constantly updated via the cloud. Despite having made its fortune in desktop-centric software, however, Microsoft also seems to realize the fundamentals underlying the tech industry are undergoing a massive paradigm shift: hence Office 365, Windows Azure and other platforms.
For more, read the eWEEK article: Microsoft's Office 365 Beta Launches Worldwide.