updated 3/3/2008 4:32:21 PM ET 2008-03-03T21:32:21

Microsoft Corp. will begin offering its online business services to companies of all sizes, no longer limiting them to those with more than 5,000 users, chairman Bill Gates said Monday.

(Msnbc.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)

The services from the world's largest software maker include Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, which Microsoft is testing in a limited trial.

"We expect by the end of this year, if this all goes well, we'll have a general availability of a subscription type service for both SharePoint and Exchange," Gates said at a conference for Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration platform.

The services let businesses access software through a subscription service or onsite servers or both. Companies can register online to participate in the trial at www.mosbeta.com.

Gates said competitor Google Inc. — which recently unveiled free service that serves as a challenge to SharePoint — doesn't "understand the special needs of business."

"If you'd seen what the Google tools that have tried to do productivity type things (do), they really don't have the richness, the responsiveness," he said, later adding, "for most of these Google products, to be frank, the day they announce them is their best day."

In response to a question about how the impact of Microsoft's possible acquisition of Yahoo Inc. on SharePoint, Gates said he doesn't think there will be any.

"In general, it shows our bullishness about search and software. Whether or not specifically (the acquisition) happens, it's hard to speculate on," he said.

Gates also said the company's Search Serve Express is available now as a free download.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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