Microsoft has a new cloud computing setup called Office 365, and it was just released in public beta. Along with Office 365 is Office 365 Marketplace that offers additional apps and services for use with the program.
The online office suite has apps that work with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The difference is that you can access them from any computer and smart phone. You can also work on any or all of these cloud apps in real time with other people who are scattered around the world. The documents that you author on the web app have the same formatting as the desktop apps and can easily be updated or integrated with existing documents.
Of course Office 365 also has online email, contacts and a calendar that allow you to work from anywhere and access from any computer. Are you off to a meeting but don’t really want to lug around your laptop and assorted paraphernalia? If you can access a computer at your destination, you can get back to work on your presentation due in the morning, update your contacts and calendar, and work with an online colleague to revise your department budget all without worrying about having your computer confiscated at airport security.
For consultants who collaborate with companies in different parts of the world this cloud computing suite will allow you to upgrade your services to your clients. Professionals who travel extensively for business may find that Office 365 allows them to collaborate with others and conduct video conferences on the fly increasing their productivity and maintaining contacts.
Since everything these days seems to come with an app store (“We have an app for that”), Office 365 has one too. In the app store you can find not only applications that will work with the cloud office suite but you can also access services that can help with everything from an email archiving app called LiveOffice Personal Archive to services like Small Business Specialists and Migration Services from Exchange Server to Exchange Online. There are also apps that will allow doctors offices to access online medical records. You can expect the prices for these apps and services to be significantly more than prices you find in the Android Market or iPhone App Store.
Office 365 also combines with other Microsoft cloud services like SharePoint, Lync Online, Access online, Windows Live and Windows Live Messenger. These services integrate seamlessly with Office 365 to allow you to conduct online meetings, video phone chats and IM. You also get tools to create your own website.
Microsoft’s Office 365 is primarily aimed towards small businesses and professionals who don’t need or want other Microsoft online services for larger enterprises. Generally it is for companies with less than 25 people and no in-house IT services. The price for Office 365 is in an affordable range. Subscription plans (P1) start at $6 per month per user. As noted the subscription plans “Start” there but there is no information exactly what is in that plan and what other plans will include and cost.
For those who are currently using Office Live Small Business, you will have to upgrade to Office 365 either later this year or early next year. Although you will get the first three months free, you will have to pay to continue using Microsoft’s online business apps after that.
For local businesses and professionals without the need to travel or “work from anywhere” you will probably be happy with simply using the desktop Microsoft Office suite and using your current email and Skype for those rare occasions when you need to travel or collaborate with others online.
Microsoft’s new cloud office suite offers some benefits to small businesses and professionals but you need to assess your needs and balance with the costs. It isn’t just the number of people but the amount of travel you and your employees require that should also help with your evaluation of Office 365.