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Microsoft (news, site) is making inroads into the SME market for cloud-based productivity and document management services with the recently-launched Office 365. The company is rumored to be including more Microsoft products and services in the cloud-based Office suite, in order to expand functionality on an add-on basis.

Cloud-Based Project Management and Diagramming

While the service already includes add-ons like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online for collaboration, the company is rumored to be working on adding diagramming and project planning with online versions of Microsoft Visio and Microsoft Project, respectively. According to All About Microsoft's Mary-Jo Foley, this information was mentioned in an interview with a Microsoft executive at the recently-concluded Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Microsoft Business Solutions Corporate Vice President Michael Park made a passing reference to the coming Project and Visio Office 365 add-ons during an interview I had with him at the partner conference. The idea in adding services like CRM Online, Project and Visio is to make it as easy for small/mid-size users to subscribe to them with a single click when "ordering" Office 365 as it currently is for enterprise volume licensees to do so.

While Microsoft later on clarified that the statement may have been taken out of context, Foley maintains that other Microsoft partners interviewed at the conference were aware of Microsoft's plan to include Project and Visio in Office 365 sometime in the near future.

Easier Access for SMEs

Microsoft already offers Project Server through hosting partners. Likewise, a "Visio Services" application is already part of SharePoint 2010 or as part of hosted SharePoint deployments. These are mostly geared toward large enterprises, though, or organizations that run their own datacenters.

Including Visio and Project as part of Office 365 would give SMEs better access to these services, especially if they are available as "menu" items that can be added as the need arises. This is seen as a good complement to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, which is being converged into Office 365 within the year.

As with most rumors, no exact release date is known, although partners believe the online versions of Project and Visio are likely to launch alongside the next version of Microsoft Office -- dubbed Office 15 -- which is believed to have a launch by late 2012 or early 2013.