Microsoft's answer to Google Apps for Business, Office 365, just became available to the public for beta testing. The cloud-based enterprise productivity suite puts Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online into a single subscription package aimed at small, medium and large organizations. The public beta pushes the suite out to 38 markets in 17 languages, and comes in two flavors: small business on a month-to-month deal with "community support", or enterprise with 24x7 support, advanced configuration options and an annual contract.
Office 365 lets users work together from anywhere collaborating with people inside and outside an organization. The suite works with the most popular browsers, smartphones, and desktop applications people use today.
Prices start at $6 per user for the small business, month-to-month plan. That's a bit more expensive than Google Apps for Business at $50 per year, but cheaper than the retail desktop software and still a good deal for companies who don't want to buy and support an on-premise server-based solution. Office 365 for enterprises includes additional features like web conferencing and enterprise social networking, as well as the option to get Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop software on a pay-as-you-go basis for a price ranging from $2 to $24 per user.
Those interested in trying out the new public beta can sign up here. Along with the public beta, Microsoft also took the wraps off the Office 365 Marketplace which will highlight apps and services for Office 365 created by Microsoft and third-party developers. There will be 100 apps and 400 professional services in the marketplace to start, including apps for CRM, payroll, accounting and more.
Individual users who just want free online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote can access those at Microsoft's Office Web Apps website, which the company launched last year along the new desktop Office 2010 in response to the likes of Google Docs and Zoho. It's accessible to anyone with a Windows Live account.