Office 365: A Birds' View

Microsoft’s constant perseverance towards making a mark in the productivity based cloud computing arena seems to have paid off to a certain extent with the launch of Office 365 beta.

Microsoft had introduced a range of online services up until now comprising of BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), Office Live Small Business, Office Web Apps and Live@edu. All these so called productivity-oriented online services seemed largely disconnected and didn’t provide functionality that would cater to the overall cloud computing community. Office 365 is a step towards integration of these services, including hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync under one platform.

Office 365 can be termed as a productivity suite for everyone. As an individual you can create an account for a nominal monthly fee and start exploring and utilizing the features offered by Office 365. Small businesses would particularly benefit from the suite as it would enable them to save on infrastructure costs and still utilise the features they require in terms of word processing, emails, collaboration tools, etc. At the end of the spectrum, medium business and enterprises continue to gain from the BPOS capabilities of Office365, which now offers the power of online collaboration with subscription models that would allow for customisation along with identity and domain federation capabilities. The enterprise package also has the option to go for a subscription based client side access to Office 2010 Professional Plus application suite.

Office 365 has a couple of plans to offer: Small Business (up to 25 users – also fit for individuals) and Enterprise (businesses with more than 25 users and having customisation requirements). Digging deep, it seems that Microsoft has done its homework in regards to customisation options that are on offer. There is the kiosk based usage (web only) for education along with the enterprise plans with options to add more capabilities depending upon the price-per-user-per-month scheme. Furthermore enterprises can have mix and match plans that can be availed, which allow for different types of users like E1 (web users – 25 GB email storage, AD integration, server federation), E2 (E1 + Office Web Apps), E3 (E2 + Office 2010 Professional Plus) and E4 (E3 + Voice Services).

Office 365’s basic package is $72 per year ($6 per month), which is about $20 more than its Google Docs paid counterpart i.e. Google Apps Service. Microsoft claims that it is more feature rich and on the forefront compared to Google Apps service. With the basic package, you get to use the anytime/anywhere features of Exchange and SharePoint 2010. Mobile access from variety of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) compatible handsets viz. iPhone, Android, iPad, Windows Phone is possible with the option of enforcing strict EAS policies like remote wipe and logon passcode along with auto-lock capabilities.

Microsoft guarantees an uptime of 99.9% and to stress on the commitment, the operating system giant offers a refund for the amount of downtime the users might face.

With Office 365, businesses will surely benefit as they would be able to fine tune their requirements and procure subscription based services that doesn’t prove futile for their pockets and with bridged gaps between the technical and management teams in regards to the reduced infrastructure investments.