Microsoft has this week announced Office 365, a cloud-based software suite that rivals Google Docs and offers enterprise users a one-stop platform containing productivity tools such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online.

Compatible with a host of devices and described as “an always up-to-date cloud service,” Office 365 has been created alongside existing Microsoft companies in order to better meet their wide-ranging needs, Microsoft explains in its official release.

“Office 365 is the best of everything we know about productivity, all in a single cloud service,” said Kurt Delbene, president of Microsoft’s Office Division.

“With Office 365, your local bakery can get enterprise-caliber software and services for the first time, while a multinational pharmaceutical company can reduce costs and more easily stay current with the latest innovations,” he added. “People can focus on their business, while we and our partners take care of the technology.”

Office 365, which is presently in its closed beta stage, will be available in ‘small business’ and ‘enterprise’ flavours at launch, with the former costing $6.00 USD per month, per user, while the latter will cost from as little as $2.00 USD per month, per user, through to $24 USD per month, per user.

In terms of content and services offered in the enterprise package, users can expect basic email at the cheapest rate, while the highest monthly rate includes Office Professional Plus, email, voicemail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, web portals, extranets, voice conferencing and video conferencing, web conferencing, 24×7 phone support, on-premises licenses, and more.

Office 365 is expected to be ready for full availability in 2011 and is presently being put through its paces by “a few thousand organizations” across 13 countries and regions around the world. The beta will be gradually expanded to include more Microsoft customers.

Projecting further into the future, Microsoft has also said Office 365 will eventually include Dynamics CRM Online and an education-based version of the productivity suite will also arrive in 2011 in order to meet the needs of students, faculty and school employees.

Courtesy: The Tech Herald