This morning, Microsoft launched the public beta for Office 365, the company’s latest answer to Google Apps.Office, email, and other business software make up Microsoft’s second biggest and most important business, after Windows. In the last year, Microsoft has earned $13.3 billion on $20.7 billion in sales from that division.
Although Office 2010 is selling well, Google Apps is providing some competition — one recent study showed that nearly 20% of U.S. companies have deployed Apps in some form, and it’s most popular in big enterprises, which are Microsoft’s most important and lucrative accounts.
Microsoft took its first tentative steps into cloud-based services several years ago with a hosted email and collaboration suite called Business Productivity Online Services, or BPOS.
But last fall the company announced a major update called Office 365, which is aimed squarely at Google Apps. The biggest addition in Office 365 is Office Web Apps, which offers online storage and collaboration for Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and other types of files.
Today, Microsoft also announced the Office 365 Marketplace which will launch with 100 apps and 400 services provided by Microsoft’s partners.
Office 365 was in private beta testing, but today any business can apply to test the service for free. Test accounts will take two to four weeks to set up. The commercial version of Office 365 will launch later this year.