Microsoft announces Office 365 beta: test new cloud-based Office one year before its launch

Monday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced one of Redmond's major cloud supporters Ray Ozzie would be moving to a role focused on the entertainment sector before he ultimately retires. Tuesday, Microsoft followed it up with the introduction of a new cloud-based productivity suite called Office 365, which launches in limited beta today.

Office 365 combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online in a single cloud-based package scalable to the needs of small businesses or huge enterprises with a per-user license cost depending upon the volume of users.

"Office 365 is the best of everything we know about productivity, all in a single cloud service," Kurt DelBene, president of the Office Division at Microsoft said in a statement this morning. "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. People can focus on their business, while we and our partners take care of the technology."

For businesses with fewer than 25 employees, Office 365 costs $6 per user per month; for larger organizations, it could cost as little as $2 per user per month, depending on the number of features adopted. Microsoft will also offer packages that give employees a copy of Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop software to accompany the cloud offerings.

Office 365 won't go up for sale for another year, though. Today's big announcement is that a "a few thousand" organizations in 13 global regions will have the opportunity to be beta testers.

At 12:00 PDT, Microsoft's Office 365 website will go live and begin accepting applications to join the beta.

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