Microsoft on Sunday announced a significant expansion of its Microsoft Online Services. Now, the service--which bundles centrally managed Exchange-based email, contacts, and calendar functionality with SharePoint-based Web collaboration--is available to businesses of all sizes.

"The combination of software plus services gives customers advanced choice and flexibility in how they access and manage software," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. "With Microsoft Online Services, businesses can deploy software as a subscription service, from servers they manage on-site, or a combination of the two, depending on their specific needs. In the future, customers and partners should expect to see this kind of choice and flexibility for all of Microsoft's software and server products."

Unlike Microsoft's consumer oriented Windows Live services, such as Hotmail, Microsoft Online Services (MOS) runs on Microsoft's enterprise server products, making it a better fit for medium-sized companies and enterprises. Corporations that choose to allow Microsoft to host these services for them can manage and monitor MOS via a simple Web console. Originally available for companies with over 5,000 users, MOS has attracted a number of high profile customers, including Blockbuster, Coca-Cola, and Energizer, among others.

MOS licensing varies on a company-by-company basis. Customers can elect to pay per-user subscription fees each year, while those with existing Microsoft volume licenses through Software Assurance can simply add user subscriptions at a discount. Microsoft is also planning a version of MOS that combines Exchange Online and SharePoint Online with Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting as a suite of services. And customers can elect to subscribe to individual components of the suite instead, if they'd like.

This expanded version of MOS is currently in limited beta, but US-based companies interested in testing the service can register on the Microsoft Web site. Microsoft expects to ship the service publicly in the second half of 2008.
http://www.mosbeta.com/