InfoWorld preview: Office 365 beta

Now's your chance to try Microsoft's revamped, online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync for yourself, so don't miss it

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Office 365 also includes the Office Web Apps -- stripped-down versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote -- but those are free to anybody, and they can be accessed via Windows Live Hotmail, SkyDrive, or Docs.com. Microsoft emphasizes the role of Office WebApps in making Exchange email and SharePoint documents accessible on mobile devices, such as Windows Phone, of course, but also iPhone/iPad, Android, and BlackBerry devices. If the document is stored on your company's SharePoint site, editing it by phone isn't as impossible as it sounds.

Office 365 will work with Windows 7, Windows Vista SP2, Windows XP SP3, Mac OS X Leopard, and Mac OS X Snow Leopard, while the Office Web Apps will work with Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, and Internet Explorer. If you've already paid for Office 2007 or 2010 (or Office for Mac 2008 or 2011), you don't need to rent Office 2010 as part of your Office 365 subscription.

Options and pricing structures are varied and complicated, as we've come to expect from Microsoft. For definitive pricing, download Microsoft's official pricing guide and wade through the offerings, which range from $6 per user per month for small companies (1 to 25 users) that already own Office, to $24 per user per month for large companies that want to license Office 2010 as part of the deal. If you have questions about how much it will cost to shift your current Office and server licenses over to Office 365, you aren't alone.

Office is from Mars, Office 365 is from Alpha Centauri
If you remember the early days of the Office suite, your experience with Office 365 may feel like déjà vu all over again. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint grew up on three different planets, and it took years and years of cross-fertilization to get to the point where the pieces started acting at least a little bit similarly. Even today, more than 20 years later, there's an enormous number of conceptual differences. Try something as simple as sticking a footer on every printed page of a Word doc, Excel spreadsheet, and PowerPoint presentation. See what I mean? Completely different.

Office 365 attempts the same sort of mash, but this time the goal is even more ambitious. Now we're seeing the same-old, same-old desktop Office apps mashed together with the server pieces that tie them together. The pieces don't hang together very well. The Office apps grew up on different planets, but these server apps grew up on different solar systems. Sometimes trying to execute a simple action requires conceptual leaps among products that are just plain dumb.

An example: I have a Word document that I want to save on the SharePoint Team Site. In Word, I click File, Save and Send, Save to SharePoint, then I double-click on my Team Site. Word shows me a dialog that's very similar to a standard Save As dialog. I type in the name of the file, choose Save As Word Document (*.docx), and click Save. Then I twiddle my thumbs for a minute or two, and finally SharePoint shows me a dialog that says, "The Web server requires you to pick the type of document before it can be saved." I have to tell SharePoint that I'm saving "A blank Microsoft Word document." Sorry, that's just dumb, and it's indicative of the lack of communication that goes on between the Office apps and the server apps.

InfoWorld preview: Office 365 beta
The fact that I had to tell SharePoint that the .docx file I was uploading was a "Word document" had me wondering which planet I was on.
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