Microsoft made its long-awaited move to package the hosted version of Office with the hosted versions of Lync, SharePoint and Exchange with the unveiling of Office 365. Office 365, scheduled to ship next year, is now available in limited beta form in 13 countries and regions and includes Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online.The beta program will be expanded progressively beyond the initial several thousand companies testing it.
“Office 365 is the best of everything we know about productivity, in a single cloud service, all for a predictable monthly cost,” says Anne Taylor, Information Worker Business Group Manager, Microsoft New Zealand.
“Office 365 makes it possible for small owner-operated businesses to get enterprise-calibre software and services for the first time, and helps multinationals reduce costs and stay current with the latest innovations,” says Taylor, in a press statement.
In the same press statement, Rod Drury, founder and CEO of online accounting software firm Xero, says Office 365 will make it easier for Kiwi businesses to embrace the benefits of the cloud, and access enterprise class email and document management that are used in large corporations.
With Office 365 for small businesses, professionals and companies with fewer than 25 employees can deploy Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and an external website for $9.25 per user per month.
Later, Office 365 will also include Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, and an Office 365 version for educational institutions will also be released next year and will be an upgrade to the Live@edu hosted collaboration and communication suite.
Office 365 is the next version of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS), which includes the hosted versions of Exchange 2007, SharePoint 2007 and Office Communications Online but not Office Web Apps.
The hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint in Office 365 will be based on the 2010 edition of their software, while Lync is the next version of Office Communications Server, and Lync's online version is an upgrade to Office Communications Online.
Office 365 will also act as a unifying brand and unifying technology base for the various cloud-based suites Microsoft has developed in recent years, such as BPOS, Office Web Apps and Live@edu.
Overall, Office 365 will offer hosted productivity applications - word processing, spreadsheet and presentations - email, calendar, contacts, instant messaging, Web meetings, videoconferencing, intranet and website creator tools.
Office 365 also comes with a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee and access via a variety of browsers, computers and mobile devices, including iPhones, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.
At first glance, Office 365 seems a stronger competitor to hosted rival communication and collaboration suites like Google Apps that have in recent years put significant competitive pressure on Microsoft.
Microsoft officials stress that Office 365 is Microsoft's strongest statement yet that it believes the cloud-based software delivery model is the future for its products.
Microsoft customers are no longer asking whether they should move their on-premise software to the cloud, but when and how, says Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division.
"We're at a unique pivot point in the adoption of cloud services," he says. With reporting from CIO NZ
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