Microsoft has opened the tap on its cloud-based Office 365 and is now offering the service as a public beta for anyone to try out.
Available in 38 countries and in 17 languages, the new beta follows several months of limited testing among a couple thousand businesses that were able to kick the tires on the service. After the public beta, Office 365 will officially launch later this year.
Unveiled last October, Office 365 is Microsoft's attempt to offer businesses a cloud-based alternative to some of its traditional desktop and server products. The service combines Office Web Apps with hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint as well as Microsoft's Lync product, which provides the online communication and collaboration piece.
As such, Office 365 is designed to offer a gamut of features, including document creation and sharing, e-mail, IM, online meetings, and public Web sites. Microsoft is also including protection in the form of its enterprise ForeFront security client and is promising a 99.9 percent uptime for the entire service.
Once it officially launches, Office 365 will be offered as two different plans depending on the size of the company. Smaller businesses with 25 or fewer employees can pay $6 per person per month to receive Office Web Apps and the hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint. Larger enterprises will have to choose one of four different plans at a cost of anywhere from $10 to $27 per person per month.
In addition to targeting the business world, Microsoft is reaching out to the educational market with five different plans geared toward faculty, staff, and students.
Also now available as a beta is the Office 365 Marketplace. Designed to supplement Office 365, the marketplace tries to help businesses find apps and services offered by different Microsoft partners.
CNET reporter Josh Lowensohn took Office 365 for a spin last November to evaluate the service's pros and cons. He found that everything worked as advertised, but that, as things stood at the time, "Google Apps this is not."