Microsoft has launched Office 365, a cloud-based version of its office productivity suite which combines communications and collaboration for smaller businesses.
Unveiling the service, Microsoft's UK managing director Gordon Frazer said Office 365 will help small businesses reduce the cost of running IT services, claiming that early customers report a 50% saving on IT. The product has been available in beta test form since April.
In a video presentation, one customer said: "The last thing I want to worry about is my e-mail not working."
Another early user is Cremyll Sailing, a charity that takes young people sailing. It is using Office 365 as a central place to share documents. Users work on their standard Office products and can upload documents via a mobile phone.
Shine Therapy, a speech therapy firm that works closely with schools in Lancashire, is running as a virtual enterprise, using Office 365 to supervise staff.
"We keep all our clinical records in the cloud rather than in filing cabinets. In the future we would like to link up to schools using virtual therapy conference sessions,'" said Sara Honey-Smith from Shine Therapy.
Office 365 is designed to be used without staff training, said Microsoft.
Entrepreneur Doug Richard, founder of training firm School for Startups, said Office 365 would help small businesses compete with larger organisations.
"In a large business technology is a competitive edge. For small firms, it is a burden," he said. "Small businesses want services, rather than another product."
Microsoft is also turning to partners to enhance Office365. For example, financial comparison website MoneySupermarket.com is working with Microsoft partner Content and Code.