Microsoft detailed on Tuesday its road map and pricing for Web-based software suites built for big companies and growing businesses.
Enabling telecommuting, which many employers and workers increasingly favor, is likely to be a selling point for the productivity and "deskless worker" tools within the Microsoft Online Services lineup.
The move is part of Redmond's push tosoftware, shifting much of the heavy lifting to the " ."
"Microsoft Online Services is a key component of the software plus services initiative, and we're seeing customers, partners and even competitors embrace this flexible approach to the cloud," Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, said in a statement.
Details were unveiled Tuesday in Houston at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.
For $15 per month per person, the business productivity suite offers an Outlook-integrated Exchange Online for e-mail and calendars, Office SharePoint Online collaboration, messaging via Office Communications Online, and Office Live Meeting video-enabled Web conferencing.
The software giant will charge another $3 per month per user for the Deskless Worker Suite, which combines flavors of SharePoint Online and Exchange Online. The SharePoint portal offers access to internal company sites and search. E-mail, calendars, security filters, and Outlook Web Access Light are included with Exchange Online Deskless Worker.
Microsoft aims to simplify otherwise complex corporate tasks managed by engineers or IT technicians. For instance, a WYSIWYG interface would enable an IT worker to give a new employee access to the company tools in a series of steps that could be shorter than setting up, say, a free Hotmail or Yahoo e-mail account.
One can sign up online to try the beta services.
Exchange Online and Office SharePoint Online remain in beta, with final availability set for sometime in the second half of 2008, when Office Communications Online beta is also due. Microsoft plans for international availability in 2009.
The company offers to pay resellers of its Online Services 12 percent of the price of each contract secured during the first year, and 6 percent per subscription year thereafter. Interested companies can learn more at Microsoft's QuickStart Web site.
Microsoft partners and resellers of Online Services include Accenture, CDW, and Unisys. Nokia is among the companies using the online tools for messaging and collaboration.