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By | Kelly Fiveash 3rd March 2008 14:15

Microsoft's cloudy vision revealed

Good news or bad news for partners?

Microsoft is expanding its existing online services to businesses of all sizes.

Redmond, which appears to have been busily building its data centre empire, presumably in readiness for its online assault, said yesterday that it plans to widen the availability of its internet services for email and collaboration software.

The "software plus services" strategy follows on from Microsoft's decision last year to offer subscription-based online services to run Exchange and SharePoint for companies with more than 5,000 employees.

Now, it also plans to reach out to the little guy by offering businesses of all sizes the same services starting from the second half of 2008. That is, after a number of guinea pigs have tested out the beta version first.

The software giant doesn't want to shoot itself in the foot, however, by alienating its Microsoft Office customer base. For that reason, it said any company wishing to make the switch and go online would be credited for the final portion of an existing contract, which can be pinned onto monthly subs.

Redmond has remained quiet on how much it will charge customers for the hosted web service.

Microsoft said a number of customers, including Autodesk Inc, Blockbuster Inc, Coca-Cola Enterprise, and Ingersoll, have already signed up to the firm's services.

But the company's strategy could isolate some of its partners and resellers, who will doubtless see the arrival of Exchange and Sharepoint online for companies of all sizes as being potentially bad for business.

Microsoft yesterday attempted to allay such concerns: "By extending our enterprise software offerings as a subscription service, our partners have the ability to develop and deliver new services with little overhead but maximum revenue potential," said senior Redmond veep Chris Capossela.

Just last week, Google announced its new website publishing service Google Sites, a basic version of SharePoint that is free to users of Google Apps – the search giant's online bundle of applications. ®

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