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Microsoft unleashes Office 365 beta

Microsoft has released a public beta of its Office in the cloud subscription service Office 365.

The launch, which turns Microsoft's ubiquitous Office productivity suite into a cloud-based subscription service costing as little at $4 per user per month, combines all of the familiar elements of the traditional suite, including Word Powerpoint and Excel - and adds email, calendars, websites, project collaboration and instant messaging to a complete package for web-based workgroups.

Aimed as small businesses, Office 365 provides access to familiar applications using nothing more than a web browser, and promises robust security and an optimistic 99.9 per cent up time for subscribers.

Each user gets a 25 gigabyte mailbox which can handle messages up to 25MB in size, and which offers the same functionality as Microsoft's existing Outlook system.

Most documents can be edited simultaneously, in real time, by several users directly in a web browser and files can be shared or archived using the company's Sharepoint cloud storage system.

Office 365 also uses the Lync system for instant messaging and video conferencing for online meetings, including shared desktops and online whiteboards.

The service comes in two flavours: one for businesses with fewer than 25 employees, the other for those with more.

You can get loads more information and demo videos or sign up for the beta here.