Microsoft has moved to the next stage of releasing its much-anticipated Office 365 cloud-based application suite, debuting a public beta of the service that's open to anyone who wants to try it out.
Microsoft has also launched the Office 365 Marketplace where the company said customers could find partner applications and services for Office 365. The marketplace, live at www.Office365.com, currently has 100 applications and 400 professional service from Microsoft partners, according to the company.
Office 365, which includes on-demand versions of Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online, is scheduled for general availability later this year. The public beta is available in 38 markets, in 17 languages.
Office 365 is Microsoft's response to competitive pressure from Google Apps. In February Google debuted Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, a connector application for linking Microsoft's desktop Office applications to Google Apps.
Office 365, overhauled and rebranded from its earlier incarnation as Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), has been available through a limited beta program since October. Microsoft said 70 percent of the organizations that signed up for that beta were small businesses.
The Office 365 suite is part of Microsoft's broader effort to move large portions of its product line to the cloud. Last week Microsoft unveiled plans to develop cloud versions of its Microsoft Dynamics ERP applications, joining the Dynamics CRM Online software-as-a-service application Microsoft has offered for three years.
The CRN Test Center recently spent a week putting the Office 365 beta through its paces and gave the product high marks for its performance.