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Microsoft expands SharePoint services for all IT shops

Fending off threats from Google sites, Microsoft parries with SharePoint on a per-seat license.

SEATTLE -- Software services, seeking to upend the Windows desktop, keep on coming, first with Google Inc.'s release of Google Sites last week, and now with Microsoft's own disclosure that it will expand its online collaboration services.

At the Microsoft Office SharePoint Conference here, Microsoft said it will ramp up its Online Services to companies of all sizes and also offer a per-user license. Enterprise customers with Software Assurance on their Client Access License can buy a discounted user subscription, the company said.

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The services are based on Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. The new services are in a limited beta and will be generally available in the second half of the year.

Online Services were already available for companies of up to about 5,000 seats. Today the company sells Exchange Online, Office SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting either as a suite of services or independently.

Online competition

Microsoft's biggest rivals in online collaboration services are Google and Yahoo. Yahoo owns Zimbra, an open source, email and calendaring application.

Google introduced Google Sites last week. The software, which is an add-on to Google's own productivity suite Google Apps, has an organizing framework somewhat similar to what SharePoint can offer. Google Sites helps enterprises set up project management tracking, extranets and other types of custom sites, and essentially creates a template that is needed when creating non-trivial collaborative sites.

Google had acquired the Sites technology from Jotspot, a wiki-based, online application vendor it bought in 2006.

Enterprises will have to bet on whether or not there is a value in having some collaboration services run on premises and others that can move to a hosted model.

"A lot of people think Web 2.0 moves everything to the cloud, but Microsoft is betting that having a hybrid model will be a competitive advantage over Google," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group, a Midvale, Utah-based consulting firm.

SaaS in the enterprise

For enterprises, there are some good reasons to consider using software-as-a-service today. For one thing, IT groups can remove the capital expenses and cost of owning the ever-depreciating software. Also, IT managers might believe they'd get better responsiveness and robustness by using services that connect to one of Microsoft or Google's super-sized data centers.

IT managers are starting to look at using services, but many lack experience dealing with software running offsite. Dennis Henning, IT manager at Ogihara America Corp., a Howell, Mich.-based automotive corporation, said he has started looking into using some email services just to get a handle on how it works.

"We would approach this from a cost/benefit standpoint," Henning said. "I won't say we have a lot of fear of having our corporate data in a hosted site. But I would approach this with a company large enough to be reputable. I would not choose a service with Joe's Garage and Internet Service."

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