With a new package of online applications called Office 365 launching Tuesday, Microsoft Corp. is courting customers who have resisted running some of the company’s most lucrative products: small- and medium-sized businesses. If the Redmond, Wash., software maker succeeds with its online applications among those customers, it could tap into a new wave of growth for the venerable Office franchise, which is already used by more than one billion people world-wide, according to Microsoft. The company also faces competitive issues: Google Inc. has won more converts to a rival set of online applications called Google Apps among small and mid-sized businesses than among large companies, according to analysts. Office 365 includes the latest versions of Microsoft’s familiar suite of productivity applications—Word, Outlook, Excel and others—combined with online versions of related software for server systems that most people never see. That includes Exchange for messaging, SharePoint for collaboration and Lync for conferencing and communication. For roughly $6 per user a month, Office 365 customers will get the traditional Office applications, either accessing them through a Web browser or by installing them on their PCs. Microsoft will run all of the servers that manage the Office applications in its own data centers. Even if they run the Office productivity applications, the targeted customers—which usually have 500 or fewer employees—have been especially reluctant to install and run Microsoft’s Office server programs, in large part because of the costs associated with maintaining technology support staff and purchasing hardware.
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