Microsoft today announced the availability of its online productivity suite BPOS in Europe. The suite includes online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Live Meeting and Office Communications Server.
It will cost £10 and 4 pence per user per month to subscribe to each of the services. There is also a Deskless Worker option, for £2 and one penny per user per month, with limited functionality for employees such as shop clerks who do no spend the entire working day at a PC.
Companies can trial the service from today, and it will be made fully available in April.
The release is a long-awaited parry to Google’s Apps suite, which is growing in popularity among companies looking to consume applications without paying for the IT infrastructure traditionally required to support them.
According to Gill LeFevre, the European product marketing manager for BPOS, a critical difference between Microsoft’s suite and alternative offerings is the ability to blend on-demand systems with on-premise software.
“Most customers are looking at the hybrid model,” she explained. “They like the flexibility it allows.” Reasons for adopting a mixed model include protecting legacy investments and working around hardware upgrade cycles, LeFevre said.
But for Alan Lee-Bourke, CIO of social welfare charity and Microsoft’s display-case BPOS customer The Wise Group, the main attraction of the suite was the fact that it will enable him to dispose of proprietary kit.
“For me, the driver was our infrastructure,” Lee-Bourke said last week. “I want to put all that in the bin, and use the IT staff to do something constructive, like managing data.”
Lee-Bourke is certainly a convert to the software-as-a-service model. “None of my users care where an application is coming from; they just want it to work," he said. "My intention is that the entire business should be run in this way. If Microsoft offered [business application suite] Dynamics and Office as services, we’d certainly use them."
As his comments reveal, Microsoft’s customers are champing at the bit to consume more of its software as online services. The success of BPOS will reveal whether dragging its heels has impaired Microsoft’s ability to make the switch to SaaS.