Microsoft courts Google Apps small-biz users with longer Office 365 free deal

Second pitch this week to customers abandoned by Google

For the second day in a row, Microsoft on Tuesday pitched one of its products to customers abandoned by arch-rival Google.

In an attempt to woo users of Google Apps, Microsoft yesterday tripled the length of its Office 365 Small Business free trial from 30 to 90 days. The deal -- pegged "P1" in Microsoft's current stable of subscription plans -- offers cloud-based email, shared calendars and Web-based Office app access to up to 10 employees.

Normally, P1 costs $72 per user per year.

Although Tony Tai, an Office 365 product marketing manager who announced the extended trial in a blog post, did not make the target audience explicit, he referenced firms what had ditched Google Apps and replaced it with Office 365.

Last week, Google ended the Google Apps free ride for businesses with 10 or fewer users. Instead, they were asked to pay $50 per user per year, as larger firms already do for the cloud-based email and software dubbed Google Apps for Business.

Small businesses currently using the free Google Apps can continue to do so, Google said in the Dec. 6 announcement. Individuals accounts were also unaffected.

Microsoft's offer was the second from the Redmond, Wash. developer in two days: On Monday, Microsoft plugged the free Outlook.com online email service to Google customers dismayed by the search giant's decision to drop a synchronization service on Jan. 30, 2013.

The 90-day Office 365 Small Business trial will be available until the end of February.

By then, Microsoft will have unveiled the pricing structure of its revamped Office 365 line-up and begun selling Office 2013 to the general public. While Microsoft has not yet set pricing for Office 365, or launch dates for either that or Office 2013, late January is most likely if the company hews to past Office timetables.

The company previously spelled out pricing of two of the new Office 365 plans: Home Premium and Small Business Premium. Unlike P1, those plans include rights to install Office 2013 -- or on Macs, Office for Mac 2011 -- on up to five devices per household or user.

Office 365 Small Business Premium costs more than twice P1, however, running $150 per user per year. A preview of that plan, which will run for approximately 60 days after the retail launch of Office 2013, is also available.

Small businesses that want to try the 90-day trial of Office 365 Small Business (P1) can register at Microsoft's website.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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