Microsoft confirms Office 365 launch in late June

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Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 service for businesses is set to land before the end of this month. CEO Steve Ballmer let slip the planned launch at a cloud summit held in India recently, with June 28 now pinned down as the specific date in a tweet by Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of Microsoft's worldwide partners group. Available as a public beta since April, Office 365 brings together the 2010 versions of Exchange and SharePoint, as well as the Lync video conferencing tool and Office Web Apps into a single subscription package aimed at small, medium and large organizations.

The service will be offered in two flavors: small business on a month-to-month basis with "community support", or enterprise with 24x7 support, advanced configuration options and an annual contract. Microsoft argues that Office 365 will ultimately save companies the money and headaches associated with maintaining an on-premise IT infrastructure.

Prices start at $6 per user for the small business, month-to-month plan, which works out to $72 per year. That's a bit more expensive than Google Apps for Business at $50 per year, but still cheaper than the retail desktop software and companies are free to suspend or cancel their subscription at any time. Meanwhile, 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.

Individual users who just want access to the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote can access those for free at Microsoft's Office Web Apps website, accessible to anyone with a Windows Live account.

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