Microsoft has been late in getting its Office software into the cloud, but it’s finally caught up to Google. Yesterday it announced that the suite of apps and software, which have been available in beta, would be available in 40 countries worldwide.
The potential for this software is huge. Already millions of businesses use Microsoft Office products, and paying to use those in the cloud could be a great confirmation for the company that’s it on the right track.
But is Office 365 right for your business?
Features and hardware
The Office 365 suite is made up of four components, all held in the cloud. Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and Office Web Apps.
The Exchange server is designed to manage email, although it is entirely hosted within the cloud. It offers 25GB of email per product, and allows users to store their calendars, contacts and tasks as well.
SharePoint is essentially the same product hosted in the cloud, allowing users to collaborate on web sites, wikis and blogs.
The Lync server provides hosting for real-time communications, including video conferencing and chatting. Users can also transfer files and instant messaging.
The Office web apps are essentially browser-based versions of the Office suite, with Excel, Word and PowerPoint accessible through the software. Users can view and edit documents within the browser and keep the same formatting they had in the original documents.
Telstra has partnered with Microsoft for the suite, offering the apps at $7.90 per user per small business, although that price can increase to $40 for larger businesses.
What’s the verdict?
Overall the Office 365 suite has been received extremely well, although there are some questions as to how powerful the suite is compared to Google Apps.
The Guardian points out that the ability to sign up even with fewer than five employees will save start-ups a lot of money, and praises the use of a personal information manager with the Outlook Web App.
“The range of options and features are vast in comparison to the 2007 OWA and gives users a great deal more flexibility in how they manage their email and time.”
ZDNet says the Exchange and Lync offerings are solid, while the Office Web Apps provide good functionality despite not offering all of the features of the offline versions. Both the online and offline versions can sync together.
“You will not get any of the more-advanced features found in Excel on the desktop, so the Office 365 version is more for edits and tweaks on the go.”
However, it also points out some bugs that forced testers to reboot, although chalked this up to early development issues.
PCWorld also points out that Lync is one of the better features of the suite, going so far to call it the “unsung hero”.
But there are some issues to be aware of. These testers point out that the Office Web Apps don’t provide the same amount of functionality as the offline versions, and so relying on them completely may leave you disappointed.
And as CNET points out, while the suite is off to a good-start, it still has some issues that need to be sorted out.
“While really impressive, there are still some questions over Microsoft's vision of making Office 365 less of a jump-off point for its software and more of a one-stop solution for getting things done from any computer.”
Who’s it for?
With more businesses getting into cloud computing, it’s nice to see some options available apart from just relying on Google Apps.
If you’re a small, fast-growing business that wants to save on money, then you should definitely consider looking at the Office 365 suite. The monthly cost will help you keep your IT budget down, and the partnership with Telstra will ensure you get some good tech support.
But if you’re a larger company that relies on the offline versions of Office products, then you shouldn’t think Office 365 is going to change the way you do business. It will be a nice add-on, something extra to enjoy that may even boost your productivity, but it won’t replace your in-house Exchange solution.
Instead, you’ll probably get the most use out of the browser-based apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.