Although Microsoft is not necessarily known as founders in any area today, no one can accuse them of not being alert to new computing trends and technologies. Their new cloud-based collaboration tool, Microsoft Office 365, looks to be a well-built rival for Google Apps.
Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Standards Suite has been on the market for some time, and the new generation represents a full commitment to the benefits of cloud computing in Office 365. The software as a service is now in beta, and sees Microsoft joining together the online versions of its products for communication and collaboration in an integrated, ‘no updates necessary’, examination.
Office 365 will be launched later this year (in 2011) and is set to contain:
• Microsoft Office Professional Plus for normal desktop applications
• Sharepoint Online for collaborative tasks
• Exchange Online for email
• Lync Online for integrated communications
Later, an adaptation of Office 365 including Microsoft Dynamics CRM will also be launched.
A complete rundown of the functions and features to be available through Office 365 has not been outlined by Microsoft. However, IT and tech industry analysts say that the offering is showing a lot of potential.
Michael Osterman, the Osterman Research president, said that “Conceptually, Office 365 is a great idea. From a functional perspective, integrating the online Office suite with hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Lync servers is going to be very useful”.
Osterman noted that having a consistent desktop experience for users across fixed machines and cloud computing will be a major boon, especially with the mobile workforce revolution in full noise. This reduces training time for transitions to cloud-based operations and ultimately improves efficiency.
One of the key upheavals for companies already using Sharepoint will not be the move to the cloud itself, but the simultaneous upgrade of Sharepoint 2007 to Sharepoint 2010, says a senior analyst with the 451 group, Kathleen Reidy.
Reidy recently quoted that, “SharePoint in Office 365 should be fairly full-featured… There’ll be collaboration, content management, portal and search capabilities, for example, so a small organization will be able to set up an intranet, publish content and allow file sharing and collaboration around this shared repository,”.
Microsoft itself sees one of the most important benefits of Office 365 as its scalability and applicability to almost every corporation and business. For example, for the first time small businesses and non-profits may have access to large enterprise-scale software. Government organisations can use Office 365 to improve cost efficiencies, minimise training time and reduce IT workload.
There will be 3 different versions of Office 265 initially available: small business, enterprise and education. Each of these will have access to the 4 services stated earlier, with the standard Microsoft Office suite, SharePoint, Lync and MS Exchange all inclusive in the product.
Most impressively to some, Office 365 can be installed and operational within a small organisation in only a quarter of an hour.
Another worthwhile benefit of the platform will be access to technical support and troubleshooting, which can be tricky to get with Google Apps’ free product. The pricing strategy however is seen as aggressive – lower-end packages are seen as predominantly accessible for small to medium sized businesses.
Reidy went on to say that, “Particularly for smaller organizations that typically wouldn’t have the resources to buy, install, run and maintain SharePoint, this is a very cost-effective option that will give them quite a bit of functionality from a basic file-sharing, content management point of view,”.