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Office Live exits beta

Microsoft's Net-based software becomes generally available in U.S., while betas are released in U.K., France, Japan and Germany.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Microsoft's Office Live has shed its beta.

The Internet-based software for businesses, which offers features such as and hosting, e-mail accounts and customer management tools, became generally available in the United States on Wednesday morning. It had been in beta since February 15.

In addition to the free Basics version, Microsoft is selling premium versions with more services for a monthly subscription fee: Microsoft Office Live Essentials for $20 per month and Microsoft Office Live Premium for $40 per month. The software is available via the Office Live site.

As part of the release, Microsoft announced that Toshiba and Sony notebooks and laptops will come bundled with a desktop link to Office Live and other Office Live links from within relevant Web tools. An international beta version of Office Live was also scheduled to be released Wednesday in the U.K., France, Japan and Germany, but Microsoft has since pushed that release date back to Nov. 21.

Office Live is part of Microsoft's broader strategy to compete with and others now offering Web-based applications. Microsoft Office Live's AdManager, for example, is a direct competitor with Google Adwords; it allows people to purchase keywords tied to search advertising on the MSN and Live.com sites.

The technological shift to Web-based applications and services will be the most significant development of the decade, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said at the company's annual shareholders meeting Tuesday. Ballmer also said he sees Microsoft's online services arm as the company's "fourth core," alongside desktop software, server software and entertainment.

Correction: Due to incorrect information provided by Microsoft, the original version of this story included the wrong date for the international beta release of Office Live. That release date is November 21.