Microsoft is taking the battle to Google Apps with its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), a £10 per-user per-month set of web-based communications and collaboration tools. The step should stir up yet more interest in the growing software-as-a-service sector and gives Microsoft shops an alternative way to access familiar programs without stepping away from the software giant.

Now available for trial in 19 countries, BPOS includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting.

The services, which are also available separately, will be commercially available from April and Microsoft partners will provide optional customisation and consulting.

Microsoft will offer a 99.9 per cent monthly uptime service level availability guarantee with a full refund if the figure falls below 95 per cent. “If we had the problems of our competitors we’d be writing a lot of cheques,” quipped Microsoft BPOS marketing manager Gill Le Fevre, with reference to the recent Google Apps outage.

Pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline will be among early customers and said the move will afford a 30 per cent saving compared to traditional software. The Wise Group, an organisation that helps unemployed people find work, will also pilot BPOS.

“We’re looking to get rid of as much hardware and software as possible to let us get on with the interesting stuff,” said Alan Lee-Bourke, Wise Group head of ICT. “The key to my business is orchestration and that’s the core of BPOS. That tattoo that I have, metaphorically, on my backside is timely, accurate and relevant data.”

The BPOS move will see The Wise Group kick out its current IBM setup of WebSphere and Lotus Domino and Notes. “It will all be thrown in the bin,” Lee-Bourke said. “It’s £1000 a day for a WebSphere developer, whereas SharePoint is half that so it’s an easy decision and the [Microsoft] integration with the desktop is attractive.”

Also in April, Microsoft will make available its Deskless Worker Suite aimed at providing “occasional” users with access to email and collaboration tools, priced at £2 per user per month.