Microsoft will offer software as a service to small businesses, in a major step aimed at taking on Google’s online applications service, Google Apps.
Exchange Online and SharePoint Online will be offered together with Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting as a suite of services and as individual offerings. Microsoft originally announced Online Services last September, but at that point they were only available to businesses with more than 5,000 users. Early customers included Blockbuster, Coca-Cola, Energizer and XL Capital.
The expansion of the Microsoft Online Services to small businesses will be announced today by outgoing Microsoft chairman Bill Gates at the Office SharePoint conference in Seattle.
Microsoft will offer small businesses services to help manage email and calendars, as well as assist collaboration on documents and video-conferencing. It will become available in the second half of the year and there will be a flat annual fee per worker for subscription to the service.
The charges for using the service have not yet been announced. Last year, Google launched online applications at $50 (£25) annually per worker.
The new services are managed through a single web-based interface, through which IT managers can monitor the performance of the services, add and configure users, submit and track support requests, and manage users and licenses.
Yesterday Microsoft opened a limited beta trial of the new services to US companies.
Describing the expansion of the service, Gates said: “The combination of software plus services gives customers advanced choice and flexibility in how they access and manage software. With Microsoft Online Services, businesses can deploy software as a subscription service, from servers they manage on-site, or a combination of the two, depending on their specific needs.”
In a clear indication of Microsoft’s SaaS plans overall, Gates added: “In the future, customers and partners should expect to see this kind of choice and flexibility for all of Microsoft’s software and server products.”
John Brock, chief executive at Coca-Cola, said that using Microsoft Online Services was enabling the firm to “drive efficiency and effectiveness ... while significantly increasing opportunities for collaboration among employees, customers and suppliers”.
New Microsoft customers, and existing customers without Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing and support package, can purchase Microsoft Online Services as a subscription per user. Existing customers with Software Assurance on their Client Access licences can purchase a user subscription at a discount. Customers with a subscription will be able to use both Microsoft Online Services and on-premises server software.