Well, it’s finally here. After a year of build up and an extensive beta testing phase, today Microsoft announced the general availability of Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, key components of the company’s Microsoft Online Services. In an effort to establish its footprint in the growing area of cloud computing, Microsoft originally announced Microsoft Online Services in September 2007. The overall Microsoft hosted-services strategy also includes Office Live Meeting for conferencing and Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services and Microsoft Office Communications Online for IM and presence information.

Today’s announcement makes Microsoft’s email and collaboration platforms available as a subscription model both from the company itself and its partner resellers. According to Microsoft’s press release, more than 1500 partners have signed on to sell this service to their customers. Although some criticize Microsoft for selling the service directly as well—and thus competing with its partners—partners have the opportunity to offer customization and additional features to their customers, as well as additional services and support.

In addition to these two services, Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, used the opportunity to announce the next new feature that Microsoft plans to offer: “a Microsoft Online Services solution that will provide IT management and security capabilities for businesses, enabling IT managers to secure and manage desktops using a Web-based subscription service. These online services will be based on components from existing systems management, identity and security offerings, and will complement Microsoft’s on-premise solutions, as customers begin to adopt cloud-based computing to address specific needs.”

You can view a webcast of the Microsoft launch event in San Francisco for Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, or read the full press release on Microsoft’s website.

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