In an attempt to offer small businesses the kind of benefits only large companies have thus far been able to get from services like Exchange and SharePoint, Microsoft recently released the beta of its Microsoft Office 365 - a suite of business-focused, cloud-based applications.
Technically speaking, the new Office 365 suite is essentially an upgrade of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS). It chiefly comprises a repackaging of several Microsoft offerings, which have now been optimized for the cloud.
Office 365 - the revamped and renamed version of BPOS - boasts some notable additions like subscription-based access to Office 2010; as well as includes hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync (Microsoft's communications server), along with Office Web Apps, the Web-based version of Microsoft Office.
With some of the Office 365 versions including a subscription-based version of Microsoft Office Professional, and featuring some links between Office 365 and Microsoft Office, users can use their local version of Microsoft Office to either pull down and edit documents from the cloud, or even make use of Office Web Apps for creating and editing documents.
Since the Office 365 beta offers a superlative set of tools for companies that want the power of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, without having to host them, the suite will be particularly beneficial for small and midsize businesses which cannot afford data centers and sizable IT staffs.