Microsoft is in talks with network service providers in the UK about making its software available on a rental basis, following the launch of a similar pilot scheme in the US last week.
Microsoft is the latest of the big software houses to experiment with the application service provider business model, whereby so-called ASPs host and manage applications in data centres and customers access them via leased lines and thin clients.
Outsourcing of applications promises to be cheaper and easier for companies than maintaining in-house infrastructure and heavyweight vendors, including IBM, Oracle, SAP and JD Edwards, have all announced plans to jump on the ASP bandwagon in recent months.
In the US, Microsoft is working with hosting partners such as Futurelink Distribution to rent out access to Back Office products including SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange.
Richard Tooth, head of Microsoft's network solutions business in the UK, was reluctant to discuss Microsoft's plans to offer a similar service in the UK, but admitted that the company developing relationships with potential partners.
"We need to understand what's involved technically and commercially," Tooth said. "When the market and network operators are ready and the business methods and commercial terms are established we'll get into it."
The ASP model would be a natural evolution of Microsoft's relationship with ISPs and network operators, Tooth said. Microsoft has been working with BT to offer managed services around its Exchange and Internet products for the past 18 months.
Robin Bloor, chief executive of Bloor Research, predicted that Microsoft would have an ASP strategy in the UK by the end of the year.
"Undoubtedly there will be trials," Bloor said. "The whole move to ASPs is going to happen. It's a long term trend that won't be stopped. Microsoft is good at waiting for trends and picking the ones it thinks are good."
IDC research manager Marianne Kolding said America is around 18 months ahead of Europe in adopting the ASP model, so it makes sense for Microsoft to test the waters there first.
"It's just on the verge of taking off here," Kolding said. "Even people announcing things early haven't been able to get the market to adopt it."
Vendors could take as long as two years to determine the best means of structuring ASP deals with partners and customers, Kolding added.
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