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Microsoft picks Exchange and Sharepoint for the online draft

Inching towards hosted collaboration

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Microsoft appears to be stuffing its rapidly growing data centers with hosted versions of core collaboration applications for businesses customers.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, today announced beta availability of an online version of SharePoint Server and Exchange email. It should be generally available, paid for by subscription, by the end of 2008 if "all goes well".

Businesses are invited to become guinea pigs by signing up to SharePoint Online and Exchange Online through the Microsoft Online Services site here, ahead of that general availability.

Also pitched into the MOS mix was pricing and availability details for Exchange services covering filtering, encryption, continuity and archiving, and Live Meeting, Microsoft's white boarding and conferencing system for Office.

Pricing for Exchange services begins at $1.75 for an organization with five users, while Live Meeting begins at $4.48 per user per month.

Inevitably, there was no word from Gates on the fate of Microsoft's Office cash cow. It is also unclear how these services will compete or work with Office Live, the collection of services that lets users view, comment, and edit Office documents. Microsoft said SharePoint Online and Exchange Online are suited to organizations with more than 5,000 users.

Monday's fanfare-free announcement at a relatively obscure Microsoft event indicates the degree of caution at Microsoft over such hosted offerings, despite prodding from fans of Google's collaboration services and the Web 2.0 crowd. Of course, the company is building data centers, apparently in anticipation of services coming online.®

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