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Microsoft battles Google with cloud-based Office 365

Microsoft is fighting back at Google Apps with the launch of Office 365, a cloud-based version of its business software.

Microsoft is fighting back at Google with the launch of Office 365, a cloud-based version of its business software. Google Apps has been making inroads in the business market by seriously undercutting Office products, but Microsoft isn't taking the attack on this core market lying down.

The new version of the suit-wearing, meeting-attending software replaces the software formerly (and boringly) known as Business Productivity Online Suite. Previously, Microsoft sold software packages to companies, which paid up front just as you'd buy a boxed copy of software in a shop. Now, companies will pay by subscription to Office 365's cloud-based services.

Office 365 bundles together Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online. Prices start at $6 (£3.80) per user per month for businesses of fewer than 25 people. Services for larger companies range from $2, for just email, to $27 for all the telephone and video-calling whistles and bells.

Microsoft has Google Apps in its sights. Google's rival cloud-based business software costs around $50 per user per year and is favoured by many serious businesses doing serious business, including The Guardian, The Telegraph and your ever business-like, ever-lovin' CNET UK.

The 9 to 5 sector looks set to become a new battleground of the giants of technology, as Apple is expected to weigh in to the business software market today. OS X Lion, the newest version of the operating system for iMac and MacBook computers, is expected to have a greater emphasis on business features.

Office 365 is launching in selected beta today, and will roll out next year to 40 countries worldwide. It will also include the educational Live@edu service for universities and colleges. Enough of this nonsense -- back to work!