Microsoft has announced a new software-plus-services offering that provides hosted SharePoint, Exchange and Lync services delivered from the cloud, plus its Office 2010 applications, all for a monthly subscription fee as low as $2 in some cases.
Office 365 will be available worldwide in 2011, but for the moment Microsoft is inviting applications from customers to take part in the beta programme starting soon. Customers can sign up here later on Tuesday.
Microsoft said that the subscription service is an opportunity for the company to reach customers that it could not reach before, especially very small business startups.
To this end, the firm is adding a new price plan for companies of one to 25 users, offering email, voicemail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, web portals and videoconferencing all in one.
"So if you're a professional working on your own, you can afford this. If you're part of a 10-user firm, you can afford this," said Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft's Office Division.
For customers such as these, Office 365 offers Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, access to the Office Web Applications and the rights to download and run Office 2010 Professional Plus on a PC, all for $6 per user per month.
Lync is the new brand for what was formerly Microsoft's Communications Server and Office Communicator products.
Exchange online will support mobile email access on any handset compatible with Microsoft ActiveSync, and SharePoint enables customers to create a web-facing presence, Microsoft said.
However, Office 365 will also be available in a slightly different form for enterprise customers and serve the education market, according to Microsoft.
"Office 365 for the enterprise will have a variety of different roles, from basic kiosk workers right up to the chief financial officer needing the richest tools," said Capossela.
Pricing for these will range from as little as $2 right up to $27 per user per month, he said. Official UK pricing has yet to be disclosed.
IT professionals will have control over how Office 365 works "almost as if they are running it on their own server", Capossela promised, adding that enterprises will also get a single sign-in so that, when users log in to their PC, they automatically log in to the Office 365 service at the same time.
"Just as Office defined productivity on the desktop, Office 365 will define it in the cloud," Capossela commented.
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