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Microsoft this morning launched the public beta of “Office 365” — a new subscription service that lets small businesses pay a monthly fee, rather than buy an up-front license, for programs including Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and the Lync Online communications service.

As part of the announcement, the company also rolled out a new “Office 365 Marketplace,” featuring applications that can be used in conjunction with the Office programs. Basically, it’s an app store, providing another example of why Microsoft is challenging Apple’s attempt to register the phrase “App Store” for its own exclusive use.

The service is Microsoft’s latest bid to keep its core Office programs in the game against competitors including Google Apps, which offers its own marketplace for add-on programs.

The Office 365 service starts at $6 per user, per month, for businesses with less than 25 employees per month, with prices ranging as high as $24 for a beefed-up package with enterprise options. Microsoft is offering a 30-day trial period as part of the beta.

Previously: Sneak Peek: Is this the Windows 8 App Store?

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