Microsoft (news, site) has announced the beta version of its web-based Office services, including SharePoint, Exchange and Lync (formerly Communications Server), as well as a subscription version of Office that it hopes will bolster Office Web Apps.

The new product, which was unveiled by Microsoft Office division President Kurt DelBene, and which is expected to be made generally available next year after a beta run, has also been re-branded as Office 365.

The new product effectively offers BPOS along with the new Office services, bringing together Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online in a constantly updated cloud service offering small-business, mid-size and enterprise versions as well as an educational version of the product.

Office Live Small Business and Live@edu will also be ditched in a brand overhaul to simplify Microsoft's marketing of its cloud package.

BPOS and Office365

According to DelBene, this is the logical extension of BPOS. He said the company always had this in its sights since the launch of Office 2010 in May, which was developed with a view to offering it online at some point in the future.

That point is this week with the release of the Office Online beta, which brings Microsoft another step further into the cloud, and which DelBene described as the "biggest shift in computing since the move to graphical interfaces a generation ago".

It will also be available from just about any device on the market and will enable users to collaborate with other users inside and outside the enterprise in a simple and secure way.

Microsoft has never made any bones about the fact that it was working on a re-worked version of BPOS even if it was not entirely clear whether it would be launched as a new edition of BPOS or rebranded.

With the launch of SharePoint and Lync as online services 2 years ago, it was a strong signal that we would move our core applications to the cloud," said President of Microsoft Business Division Kurt DelBene.

DelBene says that they developed Office365 along with a range of users from different enterprise backgrounds and were particularly keen to reach out to places in the SMB market where it couldn’t go before because of pricing.

Office365 v Google Apps

While cent for cent Google Apps can’t really offer the same firepower as Microsoft’s Office suite, even if May’s Web Apps disappointed many, one of the motivators here is Google Apps, which has been eating up more and more of Microsoft’s enterprise market.

With this Microsoft strikes back not only with a set of online products that most business users will be familiar with in one form or another, but also through pricing. Until now, BPOS was costing enterprises US$ 120 per user/year in contrast to Google Apps' US$ 50 per user/ year, appealing to SMB pockets.

The results is that Microsoft is offering pay-as-you-go pricing to micro enterprises who for US$ 6 per user/month can access software like SharePoint Online, which to date has probably been out of the range of small-businesses.

For larger companies that are already using BPOS it will cost US$ 10 per user/month. However, for those using Office Desktop software there is a considerable price increase. Office Professional Plus along with e-mail, voicemail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, Web portals and all the other bells and whistles will cost US$ 24 per user/month.

Office365 Beta

While it is not available yet, those interested can sign up for the beta at Office365.com, which will be live as of 12pm PT.

Microsoft will test Office 365 across 13 countries and a few thousand organizations around the world, a group that will be gradually expanded in the run up to the full launch. It also plans to add Dynamics CRM Online next year.