Microsoft on Monday announced the launch of its first broadly available cloud computing solutions under the banner Microsoft Online Services (MOS). The company is offering Microsoft-hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and other server products to businesses of all sizes. A previous test version of the service was available only to enterprises.

"Customers are embracing Microsoft's software and services strategy en masse because of the choice and flexibility it gives them," Microsoft president Stephen Elop says. "Today, we bring business-class communications and collaboration technologies to the cloud, and we are committed to delivering more capabilities in the months ahead. No one has done what we are doing at this scale, and I'm certain that our customers will continue to take on these solutions as our offerings grow."

MOS represents a dramatic departure from Microsoft's traditional sales model. In the past, the company sold software solutions to partners and customers, who then installed them on-site at customer locations and managed them locally. With MOS, products like Exchange and SharePoint are hosted and managed by Microsoft in Microsoft datacenters. Customers utilizing the services pay Microsoft a monthly fee.

Pricing is all over the map, but customers can get Web-only access to Exchange for as little as $2 per month per employee; full Exchange access with Outlook and mobile support is $10 per month per user. Companies that wish to receive access to all MOS services--Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications, and Office Live Meeting--receive discount pricing of $15. Or they can opt for a Deskless Worker Online package, which combines Web-only access to Exchange and SharePoint for $3 a month.

The most curious thing about MOS is that it effectively competes with traditional Microsoft products and with the company's partners, many of whom now offer hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint as well. Microsoft says, however, that MOS opens up new revenue streams for its partners through such services as reselling, migration, customization, consulting, training, support and application development, and integration.