Microsoft Expands Business Online Services

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Microsoft has announced it is expanding the availability of its Microsoft Online Services for businesses, throwing open the doors of its Exchange and Sharepoint services to businesses of any size. Previously, the services had been restricted to businesses with 5,000 or more employees, but now Microsoft is accepting registrations from all businesses with services set to start up in the second half of 2008.

"The combination of software plus services gives customers advanced choice and flexibility in how they access and manage software," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, in a release. "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 the future, customers and partners should expect to see this kind of choice and flexibility for all of Microsoft’s software and server products."

Microsoft has not disclosed any pricing information for these subscription-based services, noting only that it will offer a "flexible" licensing model that will include per-user subscription options, as well as including Exchange Online and SharePoint Online with other subscription service options. To attract its existing enterprise customers, Microsoft says it will credit any company who wants to switch to hosted services for any remaining portion of an existing software contract.

Hosted computing services are becoming more commonplace and popular with companies and enterprises, who increasingly look to outsource the deployment of and maintenance of communications and collaboration software rather than having to support the services using in-house personnel or servers. Microsoft’s move comes as rivals like Google and SalesForce.com increasingly look to offer traditional business tools as well as online collaboration suites to businesses and organizations that have historically been Microsoft customers. Google claims more than 500,000 businesses have signed up for its Google Apps suite of hosted, Web-based services.

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