Office 365

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Another step towards cloud based MS Office with Office 365.

Microsoft has announced ‘Office 365’ a further merging of Office software with online services, mostly aimed at small and medium sized businesses.

Office 365 is a marketing bundle of online and, optionally, software licensing that can be paid for on a monthly, per staff member, basis.

In its standard form, each staff member gets:

  • An Exchange Server account, this provides email, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes accessible from Outlook, a browser or portable device.
  • Sharepoint site access, for sharing documents and discussions within an organization.
  • Lync online, about which more later
  • Office 2010 Professional Plus (the 2010 versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher and InfoPath).
  • Office Web Applications, the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

The cost is from US$6 per month per account.

Size matters

It’s all well and good to have an Exchange Server account and Sharepoint site but the amount of storage space available is vital.

Anyone who has a small email quota and spends time moving messages from the Inbox to get below some arbitrary limit can understand the problem.

Office 365 has a refreshingly spacious allowance. Each Exchange account can store up to 25GB which should be enough for all but the most ‘greedy’ users. That’s 25GB is for email, calendar, contacts etc – in other words all Outlook storage. Most Exchange Server hosting arrangements allow 5GB at most so this is a substantial increase.

Individual emails up to 25MB can be sent or received – that’s also a good size compared to Google’s Gmail which allows 20MB per message.

We could not find any indication of Sharepoint storage limits nor Exchange Public Folders, hopefully they will be similarly spacious.

Exchange connectivity

The great thing about Exchange Server is that you can get your emails, calendar, contacts etc from almost anywhere. Microsoft’s has become so dominant in this area that any device needs to have Exchange Server support.

You can see all your information (email, calendar, contacts etc) in Outlook naturally. With Exchange Server you can get to the same information in a web browser (Outlook Web Access – OWA) or many phones or devices including iPhone, Android phones (natively or the excellent Touchdown), Palm, BlackBerry etc.

Since there’s central storage on Exchange Server, any changes you make in one place are automatically reflected on the other devices. For example, if you reply to an email and update an appointment on an iPhone, the reply and appointment will show up automatically in Outlook. If you’re away from your computer, login via almost any browser to see your email or check your calendar.

Anyone who has used Small Business Server or worked for an organization with Exchange Server should know how useful this service really is.

The notable exception to the Exchange connectivity ‘rule’ is Windows Mobile Device Manager on 64 b-bit machines. As we’ve noted before, Microsoft doesn’t support their own latest version software and has said it will not support connecting a Windows Mobile device via Outlook 64-bit to Exchange Server – go figure.

Lync online

Lync is Microsoft’s service for live communication within an organization. It is the central point for ‘in house’ instant messaging, live chat and virtual presentations.

Kiosk option

There is a non-software ‘Kiosk’ option which gives staff access to email etc via a browser but no Office software license. This lowers the cost to US$4 per month per user.

It’s unclear at this stage but the ‘Kiosk’ option might also be appropriate for people or organizations that already have Microsoft Office software and only need the online services. It will depend on whether a ‘kiosk’ client is still able to connect to the Office 365 created Exchange Server account via Outlook and other devices – we suspect that will be the case but it will have to be tested.

Individuals and Families

Microsoft is targeting this at business users small, medium and large. We suspect they are under-estimating the market from individuals and even families who want a better set of email, calendar and contact connection options than are available now.

There are a significant group of people who envy the connectivity they have for work and would like to be able to get their personal email at home, on a device and from a browser if necessary. Microsoft’s Hotmail doesn’t come close to being able to providing the same level of service that Exchange Server can. Exchange Server hosting from third-parties is costly given the low storage limits and extra charges for mobile device access.

Office 365 could be an opportunity for individuals, couples and even families to have a high quality email, calendar etc service.

The pricing of Office 365, as announced, is such that it is a more economical and powerful option for Exchange Server hosting alone, leaving aside all the other services included.

Microsoft should be targeting self-employed IT professionals to use Office 365. If those ‘early adopter’ and influential users are familiar and comfortable with Office 365 they will be more inclined to recommend it to their clients.

Small Business Server

If Office 365 sounds like a familiar combination then you’re probably thinking of Small Business Server. Aside from the Office licenses, the online services provide much of the service than SBS currently offers.

For small businesses and those with a geographically diverse team, Office 365 might be a better option than the cost of setup and maintaining a Small Business Server themselves. As the number of staff increases the flat cost of SBS looks better compared to the growing monthly Office 365 fees.

Microsoft is saying that “Office 365 is more than a new brand” and usually when a marketing person says that, it’s a good bet that it really is just a new brand .

There’s nothing technically new in Office 365, however it looks like a welcome combination of existing Microsoft services at a price that could attract a lot of customers from small businesses and up, plus tech savvy individuals getting frustrated by the current limited services available.

We’ll be very interested to try out Office 365 and see how it works in practice.

If you’d like to try it yourself, go to and apply for a beta test account.

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