Microsoft announced Monday it has begun widespread public beta testing of its Office 365 cloud-based online business application subscription service.
The service combines cloud delivery of the latest versions of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) enterprise services Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Lync 2010 with the Office 2010 Web Apps, as well as the option to upgrade to Office 2010 Professional Plus.
If Office 365 sounds a bit like Microsoft's popular Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) subscription service, that's because it will replace BPOS when it's released commercially later this year, according to an FAQ the company posted online.
Microsoft introduced Office 365 last fall and began a more than 10,000-organization, invitation-only beta at that time. Now the software giant is greatly expanding that number.
"Today, we make the beta available to millions more people in 38 countries and regions in 17 languages," a post to the Microsoft Office 365 Blog said Monday. The initial beta begun last fall reached 13 countries and regions.
Microsoft also plans to include its Dynamics CRM 2011 (customer relationship management) service with Office 365.
Additionally, the company also announced the introduction of what it calls the Office 365 Marketplace, an online marketplace meant to enable customers to find both apps and services for extending and customizing the Office 365 services.
"The Marketplace is now live with over 100 apps and 400 professional services, available from the established community of more than 16,000 Microsoft cloud partners with new apps and services to be added over time," a company statement said.
Microsoft has had significant success with BPOS and other online offerings, including the Live@edu service for education, which is also being rolled into the Office 365 family.
Last spring, Microsoft officials claimed the company had already recruited some 40 million paying customers for its online business services.
Information about signing up for the Office 365 public beta is available online.