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Exchange, SharePoint Get SaaS-y for SMBs

It seems that from houses to cars to software, buying isn't so popular anymore. It's renting that's in -- or coming in, if Microsoft's most recent big announcement is any indication.

Microsoft this week unveiled Microsoft Online Services for companies of all sizes. Previously, and somewhat incongruously, MOS (our name, not an official Redmond tag) had been available only to companies with 5,000 employees or more. Now, it's out there for the audience that seems most likely to crave it, SMBs.

MOS consists mostly of hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint servers along with some other features, such as Web conferencing, thrown in. It's an obvious parry to Google's thrust of Google Apps, the online suite of applications the search giant announced last year. But while Google is taking the odd approach of trying to build support for apps among grassroots users and bypassing stodgy IT types, Microsoft seems much more likely to leverage its massive partner network to sell MOS to business decision makers.

And we're guessing that there will be some interest. Love it or, uh, dislike it, people who purchase technology for businesses know Microsoft in a way that they don't (yet) know Google. They know SharePoint and certainly Exchange, and there will, no doubt, be a certain (possibly large) number of decision makers who had been waiting all along for Microsoft to provide them with a SaaS offering before they bought into the concept.

Then again, Microsoft's SaaS track record, at least on the consumer side, hasn't been entirely clean. Recent Hotmail and MSN Messenger (oh, we know, they're all called Windows Live something now) outages might lead to a little hesitation among those looking at Microsoft as a SaaS provider -- as opposed to, say, Google, which has more of a Web-first pedigree and maybe a little better track record with consumer services.

However, for the most part, what we're seeing is a Microsoft that finally seems committed to serving as landlord (along with its hosting partners) as well as builder in its massive software housing edition. What remains to be seen is whether companies buy into -- or maybe rent into -- Microsoft's new offerings.

How do you plan to profit from Microsoft's new SaaS gambit? Or will you have to struggle to adjust your business model to it? Sound off at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on March 04, 2008 at 11:54 AM