Microsoft finally takes the beta tag off its Salesforce competitor

For the past couple of years, Microsoft has been crowing about its hosted CRM service that competes head-to-head with services from Salesforce.com. It wasn't until today, April 22, however, that Microsoft's offering in this space became generally available.

For the past couple of years, Microsoft has been crowing about its hosted CRM service that competes head-to-head with services from Salesforce.com. It wasn't until today, April 22, however, that Microsoft's offering in this space became generally available.

Microsoft has now taken the "Early Access" label off its Microsoft-hosted Dynamics CRM Online service. Starting today, Microsoft will be offering two different versions of its hosted service: Dynamics CRM Online Professional and Dynamics CRM Online Professional Plus. (The main difference between the two, besides the $20 price differential, is the Plus version provides offline data-sync and expanded storage.)

Dynamics CRM Online was formerly known as Dynamics CRM Live. Microsoft changed the name of the service last month, so that it would be consistent with other Microsoft-managed services, such as Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft SharePoint Online.

Microsoft is offering the Professional version of Dynamics CRM Online for an introductory price (an offer that lasts throughout calendar 2008) of $39 per user per month. The Professional Plus release is $59 per user per month.

Microsoft says more than 500 customers and 200 resellers have been testing the Professional version of the service for the past six months.

As my ZDNet blogging colleage Josh Greenbaum noted last week, while Microsoft will be competing with Oracle, Zoho and other hosted CRM vendors, Microsoft (and Salesforce) really see the hosted CRM space as a Microsoft vs. Salesforce contest. And just like it has done traditionally with on-premise software, Microsoft is going to emphasize low price/high volume as its primary advantage. The Redmondians are also playing up the familiar Office user interface and its network of partners as other areas where Microsoft will have a strong story vs. Salesforce.

(While many of Microsoft's hosting partners are none-too-pleased about Microsoft's decision to start selling Microsoft-hosted versions of its products to companies of all sizes, this move seems to be less of an issue among resellers offering CRM -- perhaps because Microsoft is providing its CRM partners a 10 percent cut on all Dynamics CRM sales for the life of a customer contract.)

Will Microsoft be able to catch up and surpass Salesforce with its CRM Online offering any time soon? Guess we'll find out. Any Microsoft CRM Online testers want to weigh in on experiences with the beta release?