Microsoft's preview of Office 2013 has been available for a download here (I finally downloaded it this week. More on that later.), and the company also disclosed some pricing for it and for consumer and small business packaging plans for Office 365 this week. The verdict? Microsoft is pushing its cloud-based suite to the lower end of the market in a direct sales play. A company spokeswoman confirmed to MSPmentor that no information was yet available for the release of Office 365 Open, the MSP play that would enable managed services providers to include 365 in their single bill to customers. There's some speculation that solution won't be released until next summer.

Indeed, in its blog post this week announcing the Office 365 small business and consumer pricing and details, Microsoft says: "In the coming months, we'll share information about Office 365 Enterprise and other business offerings," with no mention of Office 365 Open by name.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has raised the pricing for various perpetual licenses of Office 2013 while making the prices of Office 365 a pretty compelling option for consumers and small businesses, leading to predictions that Office 365 will swallow the desktop suite.  Here's the rundown on pricing for the Office 365 packages.

Small Business

The Office 365 Small Business Premium package is priced at $12.50 per month per user and billed on an annual basis ($149.99 a year). A free 30 day trial will be available online.

Microsoft says the Office 365 Small Business Premium package is designed for organizations with 1-10 employees and each user gets Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher plus Lync.  Individual users can use the suite on up to five PCs or Macs. Pricing includes a 25 GB Outlook mailbox, shared calendar, contact manager, scheduling and task-list tools.

Also included is 10 GB of cloud storage for the organization plus 500 MB per user. Organizations can also host online meetings with both audio and video, one-click screen sharing and HD video conferencing supported. Also included in the pricing is hosting, set up and maintenance of a public-facing website.

Microsoft says that no IT expertise is needed to set and customize the service. I'm not entirely certain that will end up being the case. Microsoft is not known for its ability to simplify its offerings to such a degree that non-IT types can slog their way through the set up, at least in my experience.  But I'm reserving judgment until I can see it myself.

Consumer

Office 365 Home Premium lets up to five PCs or Macs share a single license that includes all the Office applications -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access and Publisher. Subscribers get three times the SkyDrive Storage -- an additional 20 GB over the initial 7 GB that is free. It also includes 60 minutes of Skype world calling per month. Cost is $8.33 per month ($99.99 billed annually). If you are a big Skype international caller, it may be worth it just for the world calling minutes. Microsoft will also offer a free 30 day trial of the consumer version.

Desktop Suite Pricing

As for what's being called the "traditional Office suite," prices will start at $139.99 for Office Home & Student 2013 which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. (A single-user Home & Student license of Office 2010 is priced at $119 and includes the same applications.) Microsoft Office Home & Business includes all those apps plus Outlook for $220 (compared to the comparable Office 2010 license at $199), and the Office Professional version adds Access and Publisher to the suite for $400 (an increase over the 2010 version which is priced at $349.99).

The MSP Opportunity

So if this is a direct play and Microsoft says there's no IT expertise needed here, is there an MSP opportunity? It's hard to say for sure at the moment, before the solutions are actually commercially released, but if its past track record is any indication, there's plenty of room for solution providers. First, it's complicated to understand Microsoft's licensing schemes and which ones make the best sense for individual situations, but MSPs have gained deep experience with Microsoft licensing over the years. That's one way they can help customers. It's like sending your taxes out to an accountant to do. Sure, you could do them yourself. But isn't it better to have an expert do them to save yourself time, headaches and frustration?

The other way MSPs can help customers?  In setting it up and implementing it. Microsoft may say that it requires no IT expertise. But adding the trial version of Office 2013 synced with SkyDrive to my PC has certainly also added another layer of complexity and frustration to my work day (as I figure out what's on Google Drive, SkyDrive, iCloud and what version of what app everything is in.) Implementing these solutions so they are easy to use for regular people offers up another potential opportunity for MSPs.