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article imageMicrosoft sends Office 365 into the cloud Special

By Jack Kapica     Jun 28, 2011 in Technology
Software giant stresses a compromise approach that allows users to store their data both locally and on the Web. Not surprisingly, competitor Google immediately condemned the product
Microsoft officially put its head into the cloud today, launching the online version of its Office for Windows, called Office 365.
The online suite -- which offers programs familiar to Microsoft Office users -- is intended primarily for small businesses, although a simplified version is available for individuals. It includes Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel, Outlook, and includes a few different services according to which version you choose. A program called Lync offers communications features such as cloud0-based instant messaging, telepresence, online meetings with screen sharing as well as voice-conferencing and video-conferencing, but no telephone integration.
Also available are online versions of Microsoft Exchange, the email server for personal or office use, and Microsoft's SharePoint server, intended for sharing documents and collaborating on them.
All the essential versions of Office 365 have collaboration tools and online and offline syncing, meaning that users can access all their documents and the tools to share them and collaborate on business strategies are available on portable devices, such as Windows-based cellphones, Wi-Fi-based laptops and even desktop machines in Internet cafes.
At the Toronto launch of the suite on Tuesday morning, Jason Brommet, of Microsoft Canada's Information Worker Business Group, stressed the suite's mobile features by saying that "Coffee shops have become the business office of today."
He added that Microsoft has "taken the power of Office and made it available wherever you are, online or offline."
Essentially, Office 365 is a form of Microsoft Office 2010, with a built-in connection to Microsoft's online version of the suite as well as storage facilities for your files and a system for synchronizing documents and data between the users' local computers and Microsoft's servers in the cloud.
Office 365 has been positioned to compete with Google's Web Apps, which have also been marketed to small-business users. Shan Sinha, Google's Apps Product Manager, slammed Office 365 the day before it arrived, saying in Google's Enterprise blog that there are "365 reasons to consider Google Apps," but fell short of that number by offering 364 fewer reasons. The one he did mention is that Google Apps are accessed in a browser, and so there’s no client software to install, secure and maintain.
The dig was meant to underline the philosophical differences between the two companies. Google's focus is almost exclusively in online applications, while Microsoft's more cautious approach seeks to transition users gently by giving them an experience that offers Office in both online and offline mode.
Google's Web apps, Sinha said, represent "an approach based on entirely modern technologies, designed for today’s world," while Microsoft's approach is based on a classical Office system. "Before you invest 10 years in the past," he said, "we’d humbly encourage you to invest 10 minutes in today by checking out why so many businesses have chosen Google Apps."
For its part, Microsoft is hoping that the ability to store data both on your home computer or server as well as on the Web is a better selling point. The company stated that its research, conducted by Leger Marketing, showed that while 73 per cent of small Canadian businesses see the value of cloud technology, only 30 per cent have invested in them, meaning that the idea of shifting work entirely to the Web has yet to catch on in any meaningful way.
Office 365 is a pay-as-you-go subscription service. Signing up for Office 365 for professionals and small businesses (Plan P) starts at $7 per user per month for email, calendar, contacts, personal archive, and 25 GB mailbox storage with 25 MB attachments with Exchange Online; Online document viewing and basic editing with Office Web Apps, access to files from a mobile device; Consistent file formatting from desktop Office versions to web versions; sharing documents with SharePoint Online; designing a public website with SharePoint Online; instant messaging, presence, online meetings, and PC-to-PC audio/video calls with Lync Online; desktop sharing, with Lync Online; and antivirus and anti-spam filtering.
The Enterprise plan runs from $11.75 to $33 per user per month, and, depending on any of the four packages being offered, includes such things as a complete and full-featured set of Office productivity applications with Office Professional Plus; advanced capabilities for rich forms; enhanced data visualization with Visio; publishing of databases; advanced archiving, unlimited email storage, hosted voice mail with Exchange Online; and enterprise voice capabilities to replace or enhance a PBX with Lync Server.
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