This week at CeBIT, Microsoft announced that its Business Productivity Online Suite is available for trial in 19 countries. Microsoft is also releasing the Microsoft Office Communications Online, and Business Productivity Online Deskless Worker Suite packages. The releases are part of the company's Software-plus-Services initiative.
According to Microsoft's announcement, the company is committed to a "global ecosystem" of partners for selling and customizing the online services. Microsoft has been building up to this release with considerable buzz, and the SaaS suites are likely to be popular with telecommuters, SOHO businesses, and some home users. There's not going to be a lot of up-front, big-money commissions involved, VARs will instead get more long-term, steady, but smaller revenue from it. This is of course, the new normal for the business.
Microsoft's main goal, besides getting into the SaaS business--which it must do to continue being competitive--is to counter Google's own suite of online services. Some hosting partners have expressed concern that they will be undercut by Microsoft, although Microsoft has stated that it will not attempt to cannibalize business from its own hosting partners. We'll have to wait and see how the true situation plays out here, although there's no doubt Microsoft would be shooting itself in the foot if it were to try to cut its own hosting partners out of the loop.