Last October, Microsoft announced Office 365, a new product (replacing something called the Business Productivity Office Suite, or BPOS) that ties together an array of offerings into one Web-hosted service. Today, it’s launching a public beta, which you can sign up for at Office365.com. It’s letting folks into the service in batches, so expect a bit of a wait until you can try it out; the final version should go live later this year.
Office 365 enters the market as the instant archrival of Google’s Google Apps, but the two services are anything but exact counterparts. Philosophically, they’re at odds: Google Apps is based on the idea that you’ll do most or all of your work using Web-based apps, resorting to a traditional suite such as Microsoft Office either not at all or only in a pinch. (Google continues to acknowledge that many businesses aren’t ready to dump Office by introducing features designed to make Apps and Office work better together.)