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Microsoft announces Office 365 public beta, Marketplace

Last October, Microsoft launched a private beta of Office 365, an evolution of its Web-based version of key business products like Office, SharePoint, and Lync Server. The offering is designed to take on competitors like Google Docs, Salesforce, and Zoho.

While the beta badge is still scheduled to come off the service sometime in 2011, Microsoft has now expanded the Office 365 beta to the public, added 38 countries and 17 languages, and introduced a new Marketplace for third parties to offer more apps and services to Office 365 customers.

The Office 365 public beta has two tiers. The first, Plan 1 (P1), includes hosted versions of Office Web Apps, SharePoint Server, and Lync Server, which provide messaging, e-mail, and calendaring for businesses that need no more than 25 seats. For a price of $6 per user per month, P1 provides access to these apps and Microsoft’s community support site, but not desktop Office clients or live support.

The second option, Plan E3, is designed for enterprise customers. It still has a 25-seat limit during the beta, but in addition to the P1 features and a price of $24 per seat, it includes subscription versions of Office 2010 for Windows (Microsoft is considering offering Office 2011 for Mac as well), Active Directory Sync, and 24/7 phone support.

Along with opening the doors on this public beta, Microsoft also announced the Office 365 Marketplace. It’s a way for Office 365 customers to add other apps and services to their accounts from trusted Microsoft partners. For the launch, Microsoft has over 100 apps and 400 professional services available like migration assistance, domain name management, SharePoint-based CRM solutions, and more.

Microsoft has yet to set a firm deadline for releasing Office 365 other than “2011.” When Office 365 goes official, pricing tiers will expand to accommodate a wider range of users, including a monthly $2 plan for those who just need business e-mail.

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