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Microsoft rolls out new plans for Office 365 users

Designed for small and midsize businesses, the three new subscription plans offer more features and flexibility than their predecessors, says the company.

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Screenshot by Ed Rhee/CNET

Microsoft has launched new plans for subscription-based service Office 365 that the company says are designed to better meet the needs of business users.

Available as of Thursday, the three new plans are called Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium. As described in a Microsoft blog post, the new plans are geared toward businesses with anywhere from one to more than 250 employees and replace the previous Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business plans with more options.

The goal was to simplify and beef up the plans available by cutting prices on one of the plans and increasing the number of users allowed on two of the plans. Microsoft also tried to incorporate more options for social networking, mobile devices and cloud-based services. Since unveiling Office 365 in 2011, the software giant has been trying to push more users, especially business users, to adopt the service as an alternative to the traditional desktop Office suite.

"We made these changes to the existing Office 365 plans in response to feedback from our customers, and as part of our longstanding commitment to bring the benefits of cloud-based productivity to every SMB" (small and midsize business), Microsoft said in its blog.

Office 365 Business Essentials offers Office Online, OneDrive for business with 1 terabyte of online storage, Exchange-based email with contacts and shared calendars, online meetings via Web conferencing and instant messaging, Sharepoint-based team collaboration and Internet portals, and a private social network via Yammer. The version costs $5 per user per month on an annual basis and $6 per user per month on a monthly basis. It replaces Office 365 Small Business, which also cost $5 per user per month.

The next level, Office 365 Business, includes the full Office suite (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher), OneDrive for Business, and Office Online. Users can also access and share documents across a variety of platforms, including Windows on PCs and tablets, Windows Phone, Mac OS X, and the iPad. Priced at $8.25 per user per month on a yearly basis and $10 per user per month on a monthly basis, the version replaces Office 365 Small Business Premium, which cost $12.50 per user per month.

The third level, Office 365 Business Premium, combines the other two plans, so you get access to everything included in Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Business. This one will cost you $12.50 per user per month annually and $15 per user per month each month and replaces Office 365 Midsize Business, which cost $15 per user per month.

Those who opt for the new Business Essentials and Business plans will also see the maximum number of users they can add raised to 300 from 25. The Business Premium plan already carries over the 300-user maximum from the Midsize Business plan. Microsoft is also promising greater flexibility if your business grows. As you add more employees, you can easily switch to a different business plan, opt for an Enterprise plan, or add specific applications such as Microsoft Project or Microsoft Visio.

In a previous blog, Microsoft also explained the options for switching to the new plans. Existing Office 365 business customers can stick with their existing plans if desired and need to do nothing until their first renewal after October 1, 2015. Following that date, you'll need to select one of the three new plans when your next renewal kicks in.