Microsoft's Office 365 cloud service is now online as a public beta, together with an online marketplace for apps and professional services.
Pricing for Office 365 starts at £1.30 per user per month for basic e-mail. Office 365 for enterprises also includes the option to purchase Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop software on a pay-as-you-go basis. For £15.75 per user per month, organisations can get Office Professional Plus, along with e-mail, voicemail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, web portals, extranets, video-conferencing, web conferencing and 24/7 phone support, plus on-premises licences.
"We have been in the cloud for years, supporting large enterprises such as Shell and DuPont, but Office 365 takes that same enterprise power and delivers it for small businesses," said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice-president, Microsoft Office Division Product Management Group.
Office 365 includes SharePoint Online and Lync Online, which combines Live Meeting, instant messaging, web conferencing and presence, together with other features from Office Communication Server.
Regarding SharePoint, Gill Le Fevre, product manager for Office 365, said: "The engineering team has focused on delivering something that is virtually the same as SharePoint, but it can be turned on much quicker. We have seen customer [SharePoint Online] deployments which have taken a matter of weeks." She added such deployments would previously have taken six months using SharePoint on-premise.
Microsoft positions the online marketplace as a one-stop-shop for IT products and services around the Office 365 family.
"The marketplace is about making it as easy as possible to connect Microsoft customers with the huge numbers of partners we have on Office 365," Le Fevre said. Around 100 apps and 400 services are available, including services such as integration with SharePoint and migration services.
According to Le Fevre, Microsoft's existing channel will be incorporated in the marketplace, which she says will help businesses find more specialist partners, which can offer vertically aligned services geared towards their business needs.