Microsoft (s msft) has launched the public beta of Office 365, an online suite of collaboration and office tools aimed at small businesses. It includes Office Web App, hosted versions of SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online, plus a new Office 365 Marketplace, which gives users a way to find partner apps and services.
With Office 365, Microsoft is taking aim squarely at Google’s (s goog) cloud-based business productivity suite, Google Apps for Business. Both sets of tools appeal to the small business market, and offer similar “work anywhere” cloud functionality and an ecosystem of related tools through their marketplaces. Despite Google having had a considerable head start in this market and having a much larger ecosystem of partner apps in its marketplace, Microsoft has the advantage of a strong brand in Office, a comparatively powerful of set of online tools in Office Web Apps, and a huge installed userbase for its desktop apps. Businesses that have already invested heavily in Microsoft products for the desktop will likely find the familiarity of Office 365 appealing, particularly as it offers the functionality of Sharepoint and Exchange for a low monthly subscription fee without requiring any upfront investment in hardware, software licenses or staff.
Office 365 includes:
- Office Web Apps. Online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
- Sharepoint Online. Intranet and collaboration tools.
- Exhange Online. Email and calendars.
- Lync Online. Unified communications, including IM and web conferencing.
If you’d like to try it out, you can sign up for the beta at the Office 365 site for a 25-user account (for businesses with more than 25 users, Microsoft offers enterprise plans, including dedicated support). Note that Microsoft currently anticipates the average wait for a new account from sign-up as being approximately two to four weeks during the beta period. When the beta ends, which is likely to happen later this year, users will have 30 days to decide whether to migrate to paid subscription, which should start at $6 per user per month. For comparison, Google charges $50 per user per year for Google Apps for Business, or around $4 per month.