While Microsoft isn’t exactly known today as a founder in any field, no one can fault them for not being vigilant about new computing trends and technologies. Their new cloud-based collaboration tool, Microsoft Office 365, appears to be a well-built rival for Google Apps.
Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Standards suite has been around 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 proposes to consolidate the online versions of its communication and collaboration products into an integrated, ‘no updates required’ exam.
Office 365 will launch later this year (in 2011) and is expected to include:
• Microsoft Office Professional Plus for normal desktop applications
• Sharepoint Online for shared tasks
• Exchange Online for email
• Lync Online for integrated communications
An adaptation of Office 365 including Microsoft Dynamics CRM will also be launched later.
Microsoft has not outlined a full overview of the capabilities and features that will be available through Office 365. However, IT and technology industry analysts say the offering shows a lot of potential.
Michael Osterman, President of Osterman Research, said, “Office 365 is a great idea conceptually. From a functional point of view, the integration of the online office suite with hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Lync servers will be very useful.”
Osterman noted that a consistent desktop experience for users across fixed computing and cloud computing will be a great boon, especially with the mobile workforce revolution in full swing. This reduces training time to transition to cloud-based operations and ultimately improves efficiency.
One of the most significant disruptions for companies already using Sharepoint will not be the move to the cloud itself, but the concurrent upgrade from Sharepoint 2007 to Sharepoint 2010, says Kathleen Reidy, senior analyst for the 451 Group.
Reidy recently quoted, “SharePoint in Office 365 should be fairly full-featured… There will be features for collaboration, content management, portal, and search capabilities, for example, so a small organization will be able to set up an intranet and publish content and enable.” file sharing and collaboration around this shared repository.”
Microsoft itself sees one of the most important advantages of Office 365 in its scalability and applicability to almost all companies and businesses. For example, small businesses and non-profit organizations have access to software for large companies for the first time. Government organizations can use Office 365 to improve cost efficiencies, minimize training time, and reduce IT workloads.
There will initially be 3 different versions of Office 265: Small Business, Enterprise and Education. Each of them has access to the 4 aforementioned services, with the standard Microsoft Office suite, SharePoint, Lync and MS Exchange all included in the product.
Most impressively, in a small organization, Office 365 can be up and running in just 15 minutes.
Another worthwhile benefit of the platform will be access to technical support and troubleshooting, which can be difficult to come by with Google Apps’ free product. However, the pricing strategy is seen as aggressive – packages in the lower price segment are considered to be mostly accessible to small and medium-sized businesses.
Reidy continued, “Especially for smaller organizations that don’t typically have the resources to buy, install, run, and maintain SharePoint, this is a very cost-effective option that gives them a ton of functionality from the ground up with file sharing , Content Management View”.
If you think your business or organization could benefit from the flexibility of cloud computing, then Office 365 is undoubtedly good for you. The platform requires no additional infrastructure, no learning curve for the new system, or revised security measures.