Microsoft is extending its Office 365 Small Business free trial from 30 to 90 days, hoping to attract some disenfranchised small-business Google Apps customers who are unhappy about Google's recent decision to start charging for its hosted apps service.
Google announced on December 7 that new users will have to pay $50 per user per year for Google Apps starting in January 2013. Existing Google Apps for Business users who have the free version won't be affected by the price increase.
That $50 fee is still cheaper than Microsoft's comparable offering for small-business users -- Office 365 Small Business (P1), which costs $6 per user per month, or $72 per year. Microsoft still hasn't unveiled the final pricing for its updated Office 365 line-up or made its new packages available to users; both of those things are expected to happen simultaneously with the Office 2013 launch, which is sounding like it could happen at the very end of January 2013.
But as one Microsoft partner told me recently, the mental hurdle between free and paid is a lot higher than the hurdle between $50 and $72.
"For whatever the reason that Google Apps has killed off the free version, this is an opportunity that levels the playing field for Microsoft partners. It creates an opportunity to have businesses avoid the siren call of free and get them to focus on actual features and functionality," said Chris Hertz, CEO with Washington, DC-based New Signature.
Microsoft announced the extension of the free trial on December 18. The 90-day trial is open to any organizations with up to 10 users. Those interested can sign up from now to the end of February 2013.
As my ZDNet colleague Ed Bott and other Microsoft watchers have noted, only paying Google Apps users will still be able to use Google Sync, Google's implementation of Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync protocol, to syncronize calendars and contacts on new mobile devices as of January 31, 2013.
Former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Hal Berenson has a good post about what he sees as the rather minimal impact of Google's EAS move on Microsoft customers.
I've asked Microsoft's Windows Phone team for information on what, if anything, it plans to do to help Windows Phone users continue to be able to sync with Google's calendar/contacts after January 30. So far, no response.
But users can employ Outlook 2013’s newly improved IMAP support to connect with their Gmail accounts, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. However, "at this time Gmail has not implemented the version of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) used by Outlook 2013, which requires EAS 14.0 or later," the spokesperson noted.
Microsoft has a Web page with instructions for setting up Outlook email both with EAS and IMAP/POP.