by August 1, 2011 0 comments



Microsoft is out with the ‘Cloud’ based productivity and collaboration suite termed as Office 365. The suite offers cloud-based document, storage, and collaboration services that look much like its closest competitor–Google Apps, but the user experience and price tag are very different. We reviewed the 30 day free trial period offering.

Snapshot

Applies to: Free trial for 30 days, detailed pricing included in the article
Key Specs: Cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint Server, Exchange administration capabilities, Integration with existing Active Directory environments
Pros: Unified messaging, single sign-on, pay per use model, familiar user experience

Cone: Can’t edit documents from Safari web browser on iPad; No document sharing via public URL; Multiple people can’t work together on same document.
Contact:
http://www.microsoft.com/en-in/office365/plans.aspx
SMS Buy 130850 to 56677

Office 365 comprises of cloud-based versions of Microsoft’s four popular business products–Exchange 2010 for email, SharePoint 2010 for document sharing and collaboration, and Lync 2010 service for IM, video conferencing, and PC phone calling. Plus of course, there’s Microsoft Office web access bundled in as well.

The online sharing and collaboration tool, Lync provides comprehensive communication. The pricing is on per user license and the user has an option of accessing his account through any device–PC, tablet, smart phone, etc. having Windows environment.

Using Office 365

The cloud part of Office 365 can be accessed at office365.com. It requires you to download a plug-in that will link your desktop with the cloud-based service. You’ll need Microsoft Office installed on your desktop already (to make use of offline and cloud-based features, as opposed to web apps only). Plus you’ll need the .NET framework installed. This is both an advantage as well as a disadvantage. The advantage is that the productivity app works offline too, unlike its competitor, Google apps which is yet to finalize Google gears for offline productivity. However, the additional cost incurred on this acquisition is not included in the pricing structure. You’ll also need Lync installed on your system for instant messaging and chat. Moreover, the features present in the online versions of Word and Excel are limited as compared to their offline counterparts. You can’t for instance, save a document in a previous version of Word. If you import documents of an earlier version, then they get saved in the new version.

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Collaboration

Office 365 users get the same templates, formatting features, and tools that desktop users are familiar with. And since the two services connect, you can upload any document created on the offline tool to Office 365 for editing later without worrying about losing any formatting or images. The suite uses SharePoint to handle document sharing and management. SharePoint gives the benefit of revision history, check-in/check-out, integration with Microsoft Office on the desktop, and integration with SharePoint Web services with Office 365. These services are available with Google Apps already. Office 365 has inability to share documents publicly, which is there in Google Apps. Multiple people can’t collaborate on the same document, which is something that’s possible in Google Apps. Lastly, we tried accessing some Word documents that we had created from an iPad. We were able to access the documents online through the iPad’s Safari web browser, but it didn’t allow us to edit the document. So it seems that the access from anywhere and anything part of Office 365 has limited capabilities.

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Communication

Lync integrates with other MS Office and Office 365 products so you can see if someone is available for chat or VoIP call, or who’s editing your document or viewing the same files that you are using. Lync provides an option of in-screen-sharing and white-boarding which make the collaboration and communication much easier.

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Pricing models

The detailed list of Office 365 pricing can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/en-in/office365/plans.aspx. However a review of the pricing structure is as follows.

After purchase if you decide to shift to a plan from a different family, you have to cancel your subscription and buy the one of your choice.Your data may not be preserved, and you will have to provide sign up information again.

Comparing these plans with Google Apps, it’s confusing to understand and conclude upon. Google Apps Standard for your domain is free for less than 10 users. Google Apps for Business offers two pricing plans: a flexible $5/user per month where you can add or remove users at will and pay the difference, and a $50/user per year plan where you commit for a year to get a discounted rate. Office 365 requires the initial investment in Microsoft Office on your user desktops if you truly want to leverage its potential, but that bumps up the pricing considerably.

Bottomline: Brings familiarity of Microsoft Office to the ‘Cloud’ but issues like affordability, complex pricing plans are there. The biggest con remains that migrating between plans requires a shut shop and move. It would be a great value-add for companies who had MS Office licenses on their local machines.

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