Microsoft adds IM and SharePoint to hosted Exchange

Microsoft is expanding its hosted Exchange product for service providers to include instant messaging and Web sites that serve as collaborative online workspaces, the company announced on Monday.

Previously, the offering consisted only of Exchange Server 2003 and was called the Microsoft Solution for Hosted Exchange 2003. It has been renamed the Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration and also includes Live Communications Server 2005 and Windows SharePoint Services, said Morgan Cole, product manager of hosted messaging and collaboration at Microsoft.

Microsoft sells the product to telecommunications companies, hosting providers and application hosting specialists. They in turn offer hosted services, typically to small and medium-sized businesses with between 10 and 75 users, according to Cole. Worldwide, there are between 12 million and 14 million hosted Exchange mailboxes, Cole said, citing numbers from The Radicati Group Inc.

Live Communications Server 2005 is Microsoft's enterprise instant messaging and presence product. Windows SharePoint Services is part of Windows Server 2003 and allows users to set up Web sites for use as collaborative work spaces. Service providers will probably offer the products as a hosted service in the next three to six months, according to Cole.

Pricing for the hosted services will be set by the service providers. Instant messaging and workspaces will probably cost extra above the charge for e-mail, which is typically paid for per mailbox per month.

"We are not prescriptive as far as pricing goes. I suspect that this would be an additional service, though some service providers may include messaging and collaboration in their basic package," Cole said.

Providers may add to the Microsoft product using third-party software by, for example, including capabilities such as logging and archiving for regulatory compliance, he said.

Service providers expected to be among the first to offer the expanded offering include USA.Net in the U.S. and Cobweb Solutions in the U.K., according to Microsoft. Other companies that offer hosted Exchange include British Telecommunications, 1&1 Internet and

The Microsoft-based service competes with products from Yahoo, among others.

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