Microsoft extends hosted services to Europe, Asia

Microsoft is extending availability of its hosted productivity and collaboration apps to 18 new countries.

Microsoft is extending the availability of its hosted productivity and collaboration applications to 15 countries in Europe as well as Canada, Japan and New Zealand beginning Monday.

Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite is now available in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Microsoft timed the announcement to coincide with Europe's largest IT conference, Cebit, which kicks off Tuesday.

The suite includes online versions of Microsoft's messaging and portal software - Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, respectively, as well as Office Communications Online, a hosted unified-communications offering, and Office Live Meeting, a hosted Web-conferencing application.

The subscription price for the suite, which is already available in the U.S., is US$15 per user, per month, and prices overseas will be comparable to this, Microsoft said. For instance, in the U.K. the suite will cost £10.04 per user, per month, and in Europe it will cost

EUR12.78 per user, per month.

Microsoft also is selling the services individually for prices comparable to the U.S. ones. Microsoft sells hosted Exchange Online for $10 per user, per month; SharePoint Online for $7.25 per user, per month; Office Communications Online for $2.50 per user, per month; and Office Live Meeting for $4.50 per user, per month, the company said.

Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Deskless Worker Suite, designed for employees who only need occasional access to the Web, also will be available overseas. In the U.S., the suite costs US$3 per user, per month; prices overseas will be comparable to this as well. For instance, in Europe the suite will cost EUR2.56 and in the U.K. it will cost £2.01.

Beginning Monday until April, organizations in the 18 new countries where the suites are available can get a trial access to them or to the individual services by signing up online, said John Betz, a director in Microsoft's Business Online Services Group. In April, those services will become commercially available for purchase, he said. Companies can accommodate up to 20 users during the trial period, Betz added.

Also Monday, Microsoft will reveal it's added another enterprise customer to the list of those using its hosted services. GlaxoSmithKline has signed a multiyear contract with Microsoft to offer the Business Productivity Online Suite and the Deskless Worker Suite to 100,000 desktops worldwide, Betz said.

To date, Microsoft said that it's deployed its hosted productivity services to more than 600,000 desktops. Other enterprise customers include clothing manufacturer Eddie Bauer and beverage producer Coca-Cola.

Betz said that two-thirds of the customers of Microsoft's hosted business productivity services are migrating from competitive software - namely, IBM's Lotus platform. GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, was using a combination of Lotus Notes and Google Postini before purchasing Microsoft's services, he said.

Microsoft began offering hosted versions of its traditionally licensed worker-productivity and collaboration software last year as part of the evolution of its business, which is changing as purchasing software-as-a-service hosted on the Web - or "in the cloud" - gains popularity with business customers.

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